Thursday, October 19, 2017

White Trash: How does a culture that prizes equality of opportunity explain...its persistently marginalized people?

I picked up this book for two reasons. One, I was at a local bookstore and I can't leave and NOT buy something. That would be mean, for all of us. Two, I was looking for anything to help explain what is going on right now. And this had been mentioned around the interwebs as something to check out.

The title is definitely eye catching. I'm not often stopped in public to ask about what I'm reading but I had this out on a crowded and delayed subway line, when I heard two women sort of murmuring my way. When I looked up, one of the women looked at me and said "That is quite a book title." We talked about the book for a few minutes and they seemed intrigued. See books can bring people together.

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America is just what that subtitle describes. It's the class history of the U.S. There are apparently assumptions that the U.S. is a class-free society and all you needed to do was work hard and you could be upwardly mobile. Those assumptions feel like the type of the thing spouted in propaganda (I'm thinking the stereotypical 1950's classroom reels that would teach you about the dangers of communism) but fine.

As the title-title (as opposed to subtitle; I'm sure there's an actual word for that) suggests, this is specifically about white class. There isn't a huge amount of intersectionality going on in here. That isn't to say the book is bad but just, know its limits.

Isenberg starts in colonial America, citing many of the people who came over were indentured servants and thus the tradition of an underclass in the U.S. is begun. She goes through the Civil War to the Great Depression through today, with a focus on how "white trash" (aka, poor whites mostly in the South) were treated; sometimes with scorn, sometimes with amusement, never with respect. The book doesn't deal with much primary source from those in this lower class, though I suppose that is a problem with historic records that deals with any group other than those in power. They're just creating paper trails left and right.

The book is dense and a bit dry. I read a couple other books at the same time, cos some balance was needed here.* While I can't say I thought of the U.S. as an actually class-free society** it was still an education on a piece of American history I hadn't given too much thought to. Worth the read but perhaps there are some other books out there that provide a more complete picture and maaaaaaaaybe aren't quite so dry.

Gif rating:
*I actually thought I just stopped midway, read another book and dove back in. Not according to Goodreads. It seems I read at least 3 or 4 other books between the time I started and finished this.
**I keep writing classless and while yes, that sometimes, that's not quite what I mean.

Title quote from page 2

Isenberg, Nancy. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Penguin, 2016.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Kindred Spirits: I'm guessing this is your first line

This story is so sweet. Which, yes, is what I expect from Rainbow Rowell. But still, oh man, such a sweet book.
Elena loves Star Wars. Looooooves Star Wars. And what luck? There's a new Star Wars movie coming out. She's going to get to do this right, to be part of the inevitable line of people waiting days to be among the first people to see it. But this is today; you don't NEED to wait in line to get a ticket. Fandango is a thing. The point is to be part of a group of people who love love love Star Wars.

But. The line is only 3 people (including Elena). Which is not exactly what she was expecting. But Elena won't let this (or the fact that she has to sleep on the ground, or that she has to pee in a soda cup) get her down. After all, this is Star Wars, and the line may be short but it's strong.

And like the line, the book is short but the love is clear. Rowell wrote this for World Book Day, and I was lucky enough to get a copy from Emily (which was super awesome of her, hooray book friends!) and I read it immediately. Then I finished it (it's only 56 pages) and started it over. PLUS once i got to the end, I needed to go back and see all the stuff I missed on the first read through.

Rowell's characters are always so wonderful. They feel real, like people you could easily meet and definitely people you'd want to be friends with. Even in such a short work, she still manages to give us full characters.

A part of me wishes this was longer, and another part feels like this was the perfect length for the story. I want more of these characters (because did I mention, love them?) but I felt the story was just what it needed to be.

Really sweet story (which I know I've repeated a million times but it's TRUE) and you should definitely read it.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 3

Rowell, Rainbow. Kindred Spirits. St. Martin's Press, 2016.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

State of Wonder: Hope is a horrible thing

The thing I like about book club (other than getting to hang out with awesome people, which is basically the best thing ever) is reading things that I wouldn't normally pick up. Even if they are maaaaaaaybe not the most successful. Which is where Ann Patchett's State of Wonder falls.

The story is about a woman, Marina, who is a scientist studying cholesterol or something boring like that when she learns that a co-worker of hers has died. Which would be sad but not necessarily much to build a narrative on. But this co-worker, Andres Eckman, died in the Amazon jungle, looking for another doctor, a former teacher of Marina's, who has been studying fertility in a local tribe but hasn't been very forthcoming with those funding the research. Eckman was supposed to find Dr. Swenson, report how things are going, and ideally bring Swenson and her fertility treatments back home.

Marina goes to try to find out what happened and maybe retrieve Eckman's body. There's a lot about her reactions to anti-malaria medication that causes hallucinations and nightmares, something she had to deal with as a child traveling to India to visit her dad. She spends a lot of time hanging out in a town Dr. Swenson visits for supplies, waiting for her to show up so she can follow her back to the jungle.

I would say most of the novel takes places out in the jungle except we spend sooooo much time getting to this point. This is still the main part of the story but it takes a while to get there. And then once you're there it's still sort of...eh. The character Dr. Swenson is great, as long as you like curt, no-nonsense smart women. But the story doesn't really go anywhere. I don't just mean it meaders although yeah, that. But there are plenty of elements that are introduced (like the hallucinations) that go no where. They're introduced, you think it will be something but then nope. Repeat at least 3 more times. It's frustrating. Some of the mysteries that are introduced are resolved (I won't go into what cos spoilers) but you sort of don't care by the time they get to them. Or I didn't care so much.

The writing itself was beautiful at times. And perhaps if the story had been more focused it would have felt more successful. There's enough here that I'll probably check out something else of hers. If you haven't read her before, maybe don't make this your first. I've heard good things about her other stuff.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 43

Patchett, Ann. State of Wonder. Harper Perennial, 2011.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Infographics!! Summer reading (and also some early fall)



A little late, but worth the wait (I hope). It's the same number of books as last time but more pages than Q2. (25% more pages than Q2 if you want to get nerdy about it.) I'm happy with the resolution share (though better would be good too), I'm surprised both by the Fiction/Nonfiction (totally even?) and the Male/Female (more dudes??) splits, but hey, that's why I like keeping these stats.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

We Were Eight Years in Power: Everything was bright. Everything was rising. Everything was a dream

This book.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. And I picked up this book with certain expectations, coming from Coates earlier work Between the World and Me. Expectations were exceeded with We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. 

The book is a collection of essays Coates wrote for The Atlantic. Each piece is preceded by its own introductory essay, an explanation of where Coates is now and his current thoughts on the piece. These introductions were themselves basically their own essays (in case you're worried it's not worth it to pick up a collection of essays published elsewhere). Coates has become the go-to writer when it comes to discuss race in America.

These can be difficult essays to read. Not difficult to understand but to take in, intellectually, emotionally. There were a lot of emotions as I was reading these: anger, embarrassment, disgust. Not at what he's saying but the truths he's calling out, things that I from y position of privilege I haven't really had to think about. Things I should think about. Things that I was nodding vigorously to. I did have to take a break in the middle of reading this. Pick up something light because there is a lot here and burnout is real.

The essays include:
"This Is How We Lost to the White Man"
American Girl
Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?
The Legacy of Malcom X
Fear of a Black President
The Case for Reparations
The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration
My President Was Black

I feel like I'm the wrong person to review this. There's nothing I can add. I can just say that this should be reading for everyone.
I see the fight against sexism, racism, poverty, and so on finding their union not in synonymity but in their ultimate goal - a world more humane.
Gif rating:
Title quote location 683

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. One World, 2017. NetGalley

Monday, October 2, 2017

September Reading Wrap-Up

This summer wasn't great for me in terms of reading or blogging. September was much better in terms of reading (out of a general reading slump, plus trains are running so I have my commuting time to read back) but way less blogging happened. Not for any real reason other than the weekends seemed busier than normal and I do most of my blogging on the weekends. So. Here's to October being better for both.

Number of books read
5
The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
Locke & Key by Joe Hill (& Gabriel Rodriguez, except I listened to the audiobook so did not get to enjoy his artwork)
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Number of pages read
2,326
Fiction
60%

Female authors
20%

POC authors
20%

US authors
100%

Book formats
audiobook: 20%
ebook: 60%
paperback: 20%

Where'd I get the book?
indie bookstore: 20%
Kindle/Audible: 20%
NetGalley: 60%

Reread
20%

Review books
60%

Readalong/bookclub
20%

Books by decade
2000s: 20%
2010s: 80%

Books by genre
Essays: 20%
Horror: 20%
Satire: 20%
Sci-fi: 20%
Travel :20%

Resolution books
20%
Only We Were Eight Years in Power (POC author). Otherwise all the books are by US authors, white authors, and published after 2000. Again, Gabriel Rodriguez did the artwork for the Locke & Key graphic novel but since I listened to the book it seems like I can't count him as an additional POC author.

Here's to October!