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review 2018-06-16 04:18
Interesting perspective - infuriating, frustrating and sad
The View from Flyover Country - Sarah Kendzior

I follow Sarah Kendzior on twitter - @sarahkendzior - and I find her social media feed to be engaging and illuminating in this age of Trump. The View from Flyover Country is a collection of essays that she published back in 2012 - 2014, in which she focuses on several topics that, in hindsight, appear to provide insight into how Trump carried the important, and unexpected, 60K votes in a few counties in Michigan and Wisconsin, which led to his victory.


The sections are entitled:


I. Flyover Country

II. The Post-Employment World

III. Race and Religion

IV. Higher Education

V. Media

VI. Beyond Flyover Country


When Kendzior talks about "Flyover Country," she is speaking of the swath of the U.S. that is in the center of the country, much of which was firmly Democrat until it wasn't, and which has been in decline for decades. She herself lives in St. Louis, and much of her perspective is taken from her home city and home state, which is desperately poor and racially tense.


She riffs on several themes throughout the book, which really boil down to a meditation in inequality - every theme has as an underlying coda the reality that a small percentage of Americans are in possession of most of the private, and public, good, and that the price to buy into privilege is far too high for the average American to pay.


For example, her discussion about higher education focuses on the stark reality that only about 25% of the "professors" are full-time, tenure track employees with real salaries and benefits that form the reward for their years of education. Approximately 75% of "professors" are piece-work adjuncts who live in poverty, sometimes making as little at 12K a year, living in their cars. Their educations and intelligence are indistinguishable from the professional class, but they are unable to obtain for themselves a "real job" in academia, even after serving as the foot soldier of the University (unpaid graduate student) for years, toiling for their Ph,D. If one is not interested in higher education, this may not inspire sympathy, but she demonstrates the same model is being used by employers in essentially all markets, with the possible exception of the financial sector.


When she talks about employment in highly sought after fields, she makes the point that the barriers to entry in those fields - knowing someone who is already powerful, and the ability to participate in unpaid internships - act to keep out everyone who doesn't already come from a family with status. Young people who want to break into publishing or the media or foreign policy must be able to take unpaid internships in expensive cities in order to meet the right people who control the hiring process. Therefore, it is a self-fulfilling prophesy - the already powerful consolidate power in themselves and their progeny and the rest of the nation goes begging.


The major downfall of the book is that it tends to be repetitive because it is a collection of essays published over a number of years, and so you read the same or similar anecdotes in multiple essays. It is also, to be quite honest, simply depressing as fuck. I am fortunate to be at the tail end of a moderately successful and quite stable career - I am 3 years away from being able to take an early retirement which will enable me to live, if not in luxury, certainly without being reduced to eating cat food and sleeping on sewer grates under newspapers. I was lucky enough to buy a house that has increased substantially in value, and will continue to do so until I can cash out and use the money to sustain myself in more austere circumstances.


I'm not really worried about me, although a total global economic meltdown would no doubt ruin me as it would ruin everyone except for the global elite which seems to invariably emerge from every crisis with an even larger percentage of the resource pot. 


But, I am launching kids into adulthood right now. And this shit makes me want to cry and scream and demand to know who the fuck thought it was a good idea to create a new Gilded Age where those ultimate expressions of vacuous grasping mediocrity - the Trumps and their ilk - would end up winning the financial lottery at the expense of my children. It's bullshit.


So, yeah, Sarah Kendzior just depressed the fuck out of me. It's true, most of it, and it's gross and it should be a goddamned crime. But it's the way we live now.

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text 2018-06-09 01:13
Reading progress update: I've read 20%.
The View from Flyover Country - Sarah Kendzior

I follow Sarah Kendzior on Twitter, and have for a long time. I find her to be insightful and interesting, in spite of the fact that she invariably makes me feel like the world is falling apart at the seams. I've had this book on my radar screen since the election of Donald Trump.




Mistaking wealth for virtue is a cruelty of our time.


Everything she says is true, and this is truest of all.

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review 2018-06-07 16:32
Another Country, by James Baldwin
Another Country - James Baldwin

"So what can we really do for each other except--just love each other and be each other's witness?"


When I finished Another Country, it brought tears to my eyes. There's so much suffering exquisitely depicted alongside glimmers of love and beauty, such whole, flawed characters. Like the recently read The Fire Next Time, a nonfiction work by Baldwin, it might have been written today. Again, this is both a compliment to Baldwin's art and his powers of observation but also a lament that so little has changed, particularly regarding race but also gender and sexuality.


Nothing is easy about this book except its gorgeous, lucid prose. It's not afraid of the dark things in people, the mistakes we make, and what holds us back. I felt deeply for these characters, but the book doesn't give in to despair, which, at the end, is what made me cry in relief.


I was surprised to be reminded of Virginia Woolf as I read. There are passages where a character's inability to express "it" or oneself or story are noted. There's a suicide. There's also something about the way both Baldwin and Woolf capture fine states of emotion or the way our feelings and attitude can change so quickly, from seemingly small things. And, when we learn Cass's real name is Clarissa (her husband is Richard), I knew I wasn't crazy to make these connections!


The book is a landmark queer text, and Baldwin clearly knows how to write sex, the act itself--between men and women and between two men--and desire. Its queerness affected its reception at the time; I'm sure many would prefer Baldwin stick exclusively to race and racism. The quote above is spoken by Vivaldo to Eric, and it is a beautiful and simple idea even as the story proves it may be impossible to live by.


However, Baldwin does privilege love between men and the homosocial above all. Nearly all the central male characters are queer or explore their sexuality with one another; at the very least, platonic love between them is a source of comfort and hope. This is not the case with the women. Women's sexuality and power emasculate or cannot be known. There appears to be no escape or solution for women and their pain and oppression, whether white or black. If there is one flaw or problematic issue in this book, in my mind it's that. The love and act of witnessing in the quote seem to be for men only.



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text 2018-05-18 18:07
The Country Girls / Edna O'Brien
The Country Girls - Edna O'Brien

Meet Kate and Baba, two young Irish country girls who have spent their childhood together. As they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship. Kate, dreamy and romantic, yearns for true love, while Baba just wants to experience the life of a single girl. Although they set out to conquer the world together, as their lives take unexpected turns, Kate and Baba must ultimately learn to find their own way.


I have absolutely no idea how to rate this book. Can I say that I enjoyed it? Yes and no. Can I say that I appreciated it? Yes indeed.

It was an important book for its time—published in 1960 and showing an Ireland that doesn’t exist anymore. One where the Catholic Church and patriarchy reigned supreme and women had extremely limited choices. You could get married or become a nun. That was pretty much it, at least for the country girls. Women weren’t admitted to be sexual beings and weren’t supposed to criticize how their society worked.

Edna O’Brien writes beautifully about the naiveté of the two rural girls when they come to the big city. Kate is the artistic, romantic, intellectual girl who has idealistic visions of what life should be like. She wants to discuss literature with her dates and they only value her sexuality. She becomes involved with an older married man from her village because he offers a window into the more sophisticated world that Kate longs for. Baba, on the other hand, is far more earthy—she wants to smoke, drink, and enjoy the company of men. The two women couldn’t be more different from one another, but small communities make for strange friendships. With few people of the right age to choose from, you bond with the most compatible person available and these relationships rarely withstand leaving home.

The poverty, the alcohol problems, the repression of women--The Country Girls reveals them all. No wonder this book was denounced and banned. It was hanging out the dirty linen for the world to look at.

Ireland is a country that is definitely on my “to visit” list. I love reading books which are set there and I will definitely read more of O’Brien’s work.

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text 2018-05-10 21:34
TBR Thursday
The Country Girls - Edna O'Brien
Beneath the Sugar Sky - Seanan McGuire
The Borrower - Rebecca Makkai
Honor Among Thieves - Ann Aguirre,Rachel Caine
The State of the Art - Iain M. Banks
A Curious Beginning - Deanna Raybourn

Such a good selection of books from my library!


I will finish A Plague of Giants this evening and I'll continue to have Robots Vs. Fairies as my coffee break book.  Then its time to get started on this selection.


I have tomorrow off work--tomorrow is also the beginning of the Calgary Reads Big Book Sale.  I plan to be there when the doors open at 9 a.m. with my wishlist in hand to have first pick.  Photos for Monday!!


Also planning to see a performance of Julius Caesar with my Shakespeare buddy on Saturday evening.


Have a wonderful weekend, my BL friends.

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