Monday, July 24, 2017

Into the Water - Paula Hawkins

I really enjoyed this author's previoius book, "The Girl on the Train".  This one disappoints.  A woman writing stories about the drownings of multiple women in a small town is herself found drowned.  A young girl who is the best friend of her daughter drowned only a short time before.  Are they suicides or murders?

The author tells the story in repeated first-person chapters from each characters point of view, the big picture not revealed until the end, like peeling an onion.  There was no satisfying resolution delivered.  Not recommended.

Published: 2017  Read: July 2017  Genre: Mystery

Hillbilly Elegy - J D Vance

Subtitle: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

I enjoyed this book.  It's a memoir of sorts, the author only in his mid-30's, about a family from Kentucky growing up poor in a factory town in Ohio.  What I liked was how it gave insight into the life of this group of people.  I was not aware that thousands of families had migrated north from the mountains of Appalachia after WWII for jobs in manufacturing, bringing their culture with them.  The author illustrates the beliefs and family dynamics that have contributed to the poverty and hopelessness in the population and makes claims that his experience is endemic in the white working class of America.

"...hillbillies learn from an early age to deal with uncomfortable truths by avoiding them, or by pretending better truths exist.  This tendency might make for psychological resilience, but it also make it hard for Appalachians to look at themselves honestly."

"We were conditioned to feel that we couldn't really depend on people."

He describes how these families were ill-prepared to survive when the factories closed, how the educated and wealthy abandoned towns, leaving behind those struggling in despair. (His takeaway from the book The Truly Disadvantaged by Julius Wilson).

He joined the Marines and there he discovered he had a "learned helplessness" - a belief that the choices he made had no effect on the outcomes in his life.  He'd grown up in a town with small expectations and a chaotic home life.  The Marines, he says, taught him learned willfulness.

As an adult, he left behind the fear and lack of safety and stability and became empowered to be a protector and care for those he loved.  Being "part of a family, that for all its quirks, loved me unconditionally" he realized was a great strength.

In describing his community he notes that there is a mistrust of some of the most obvious paths to upward mobility and that the cultural expectations of working-class white Americans have fallen to where they are the most pessimistic segment of the population about the future of their children.

He learns when interviewing for jobs after finishing Yale law school that success depends greatly on networking and comfort with the culture he aspired to join.  This social capital is "a measure of how much we learn through our friends, colleagues, and mentors."

In reflecting on his home and community he identifies a constant readiness to fight or flee from living with alcoholic or drug-using parents with multiple partners and the resulting high level of instability.

I think his story sheds light on how people get beaten down through loss of income and a perception of lack of opportunity and how this mindset is passed on to the next generation.

Published: 2016  Read: July 2017  Genre: Auto-biography

Monday, July 3, 2017

In Calabria - Peter S Beagle

I need to start being more selective with what I pick up at the library.  This little book had some good reviews (but then, don't all book covers have glowing reviews?) and I recognized the author.  It's a fable, of sorts, about a unicorn that comes to the farm of an isolated, older man to have her colt.  The man befriends the unicorn at the same time he opens up to being a friend of a young woman who brings his mail.

The author wrote one of my favorite books, A Fine and Private Place back in the 1960's.  It's a story of unresolved love in the afterlife.  This book has none of the charm or magic power of his earlier one for me.  Not recommended.

Published:  2017  Read: July 2017  Genre: Fiction (fantasy)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life - Yiyun Li

This is a sad, disjointed book.  The author is a lauded graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop.  She is Chinese, born in Beijing and trained as an immunologist and immigrated to the U.S.  She left science t to write and has written several books, all in English, and does not write in Chinese.

This book contains reflections on her self and reminiscences of other authors while she was suffering from depression and had thoughts of suicide.  I was too distracted by the unfocused, rambling and her use of language.  Not recommended although she did have a couple phrases I noted.

"To read is to be with people who, unlike those around one, do not notice one's existence."
"What other and the world have done should not define one as much as what one had done to oneself." 

Published:  2017  Read:  June 2017  Genre: Memoir