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review 2018-10-17 01:45
Squeezed by Alissa Quart
Squeezed: Why Our Families Can't Afford America - Alissa Quart

I looked forward to reading this book, because income inequality has become an important topic in America. I see firsthand the deterioration of the middle class, with professionals often working second jobs in the evening; families with two working parents struggling to pay for day care or patch together a network of relatives and friends to provide it because they can’t afford it at all; and people in their 20s and 30s held hostage to student debt or living with parents or roommates due to housing prices. Wages haven’t kept up with inflation, while the price of education and medical care is skyrocketing and the price of housing is climbing steeply as well. The current generation of young people is expected, overall, to earn less than their parents, and people with respectable jobs will tell you they can’t afford to have kids. This is a mess that certainly deserves a book.

Sadly, this is not a good book. It’s overly focused on the very expensive New York City and San Francisco, which the author discusses as if they were representative of the rest of the country. The human-interest segments are lacking, spending too little time with any individual to tell their story or get readers invested; instead the author summarizes their financial situation and feelings about it and then moves on, generally never to revisit the same person again. It’s poorly organized and feels rushed to press, with egregious copyediting errors like random words stranded between sentences, repetitive figurative language (she describes parents and day-care providers as “like nesting dolls” twice in two pages, and then again at the end), and poor word choice (stating, for instance, that a law “argues” something – a statute mandates, prohibits or permits something, it doesn’t argue).

Meanwhile the factual portions are marked by generalizations, odd tangents, questionable leaps of logic, and conclusions with no factual basis provided. She’ll call something a “racket” or a “myth” when first introducing a situation, rather than leading readers to draw conclusions ourselves. And it’s hard to take her word for it when she uses overheated language: “As of 2004, nearly 40 percent of Americans had experienced nonstandard work lives, if by ‘standard’ is meant the (now semi-mythical) eight-hour daily shift of the past.” What’s “semi-mythical” about a schedule that’s all that 60% of Americans have ever known? She also does a poor job of bringing her own emotions home to the reader; for instance, she meets an overnight day care child “two years older than my daughter” who feels she can’t rely on parents. Okay, so how old is Quart’s daughter? And she feels like she needs to pay rent to go for a walk – wait, what? Why?

But let me summarize the book for you; I read it so you don’t have to!

Chapter 1: “Inconceivable: Pregnant and Squeezed”

Employment discrimination against pregnant women is on the rise; some pregnant employees are fired, while those looking for a job hide their pregnancies in interviews. The author believes this is because employers want to deny human biology.

Chapter 2: “Hyper-Educated and Poor”

Adjunct professors are only paid about as much as grade-school teachers, and may have to patch together classes at several different colleges to make ends meet. This chapter focuses almost exclusively on adjunct professors, even discussing a charity set up to help them with bills.

Chapter 3: “Extreme Day Care: The Deep Cost of American Work”

Employers increasingly expect employees to work unusual hours, so some day cares are now open round-the-clock. Day care is incredibly expensive while at the same time day care workers are poorly-paid; I wish she had delved into this apparent contradiction.

Chapter 4: “Outclassed: Life at the Bottom of the Top”

This chapter makes reference to “keeping up with the Joneses” but then, perhaps realizing that’s a common and not terribly sympathetic phenomenon, shifts gears to talk about how many more lawyers there are these days than actual legal jobs, due to the proliferation of law schools and the assumption that a law degree equals financial security. Seems like this belongs in Chapter 2, since underemployed lawyers aren’t exactly almost-rich. It’s hard to tell from the book how many people are actually affected though, because she gives random statistics like “56% of lawyers in Alaska don’t work in law!” Okay, so why are you talking about Alaska rather than giving nationwide statistics? And this is meaningless anyway without stats on how many lawyers worked in other fields pre-recession; law has always been a gateway to other fields, whether in business, politics, government administration, nonprofit management, or more unusual choices from police chief to novelist.

Chapter 5: “The Nanny’s Struggle”

There’s a decent story in here about a Paraguayan immigrant working as a nanny/cleaner and trying to raise her son, though I’m not sure why it’s here as she’s working poor, not middle class. This chapter segues into discussing the complexity of the educational system in New York, spending a full 12 pages on the difficulty of figuring out which New York public school to request, and the fact that middle- and upper-class folk pay educational consultants for this. As a solution, the author suggests providing free educational consultants to all parents. This seems minimally helpful as presumably there are schools virtually all parents would prefer to avoid, and anyway, I doubt it’s that difficult to choose a high school in most of the country, if you have any choice at all.

Chapter 6: “Uber Dads: Moonlighting in the Gig Economy”

This chapter is focused on Uber, and in particular Uber’s pitch to teachers, and the fact that teachers feel they need to moonlight at a second job at all. This is a real problem, but there’s a lot more to the gig economy than ridesharing, though you don’t see that here. Quart even theorizes that men are more likely to drive for Uber because they constantly have to prove their masculinity, so feel more threatened by loss of class status. No doubt this is a factor in some men’s decision to moonlight, and it seems appropriate to say something about issues affecting men in a book that’s generally much more focused on women’s issues, but Quart overlooks the fact that women typically don’t work as taxi or rideshare drivers due to fear of sexual assault or robbery, and that the demographics of Uber drivers aren’t representative of the gig economy overall. Look at second jobs in retail, hospitality, child care, or pet care, for instance, and you’ll see different demographics.

Chapter 7: “The Second Act Industry: Or the Midlife Do-Over Myth”

A lot of for-profit colleges are scams, making money on students’ federal loans, but not providing good education and landing their students with debt. The author doesn’t really support her assertion that a mid-life career change is a “myth,” though she writes about a lot of people making money off of others’ desire to start over.

Chapter 8: “Squeezed Houses”

This is where I thought we’d get more on housing prices, but this chapter mostly talks about the fact that some parents have decided to move in with other parents and “coparent” their kids together although they’re not related or romantically involved.

Chapter 9: “The Rise of 1 Percent Television”

Quart wants to tie people’s love of watching TV featuring the rich into her narrative somehow. She doesn’t really make the case that this is a new phenomenon, though, and her analysis of the shows in question is doubtful. (She points out that in Downton Abbey the rich Crawleys are mostly good while a couple of servants are the villains, neglecting to mention that the servants Anna and Bates are portrayed as practically angels in comparison to everybody else.) She also claims that people posting pictures of “adventurous vacations” and even attractive spouses on social media are doing so to advertise their class status.

Chapter 10: “Squeezed by the Robots”

The final chapter has some legitimate points about jobs being lost to automation, but Quart takes it to an extreme and spends most of the chapter creating a false dichotomy where robots shuttling linens about the hospital means that future patients’ post-op care will somehow be done entirely by machines, with no “human touch.” She romanticizes care work here – I’ll bet a lot of patients would find more dignity in being lifted by a machine they can control than by a busy, tired low-wage worker – while championing what she admits is an apocalyptic view of robots. Then she advocates for a universal basic income, which she doesn’t really seem to have thought through because, first, why pay people not to work when there’s all-important care work to be done, and second, she suggests both that it would probably be set at the poverty level and that it could replace programs like Medicare. As if any elderly person at the poverty level could afford health care out-of-pocket.

There – now you’ve as good as read the book. I went in expecting to agree with the author, and still thought it was bad; hopefully someone else will tackle this topic with more intellectual rigor and emotional depth, and with a better editor and copyeditor.

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review 2018-10-03 16:29
Hugely disappointing partisan book by great author
The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels - Jon Meacham

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, John Meacham, author; Fred Sanders, narrator*
This author chose to read, in his own voice, the first hour and last half hour, or so, of his book. He narrates what seems to be an effort to smear the right side of politics and buoy up the left. In an innocent, almost pained tone of voice, he presents his opinion about the state of politics and government in the current White House. He is obviously disappointed and unhappy about who won the election.

He presents the platform of the left, civil rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, etc., as if those on the right are all white supremacists that are against those very same policies. The most egregious of that effort for me, was this: Although he spends a great deal of time on Martin Luther King and President Johnson, he leaves out those on the left who opposed the passing of the Civil Rights Act. He doesn’t mention the fact that Democrat Robert Byrd filibustered to try and prevent it from passing or that he rode with the KKK. He doesn’t mention that it was largely Republicans who passed the Act while Democrats opposed no only it, but also the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Facts like that would contradict his attempt to present Progressives and Democrats as the “better angels”.

There has been, of late, a proliferation of books that denigrate President Trump. This one tries to masquerade as more cerebral, and possibly more fair-minded, as it is supposed to be searching for the “soul” of America, but that soul seems to exist only on the left side of the political divide. I was surprised that Meacham would present so one-sided a narrative in order to promote the views of the Democrats and Progressives. He deliberatively uses selective sources to elevate them, He almost entirely ignores the faults of the left while presenting the foibles of the right and pretty much ignores the destructive behavior of those on the left as if they were anomalies not worthy of much attention.

The very fact that the universities, largely influenced by Progressive thought, limit speech that does not represent their political view or those of their students, that publishers are rushing to put out books to influence the voting population in only one direction, the left, that the entertainment media and news media are consistently presenting negative images of the President and his accomplishments, should frighten the general public. Instead, the manipulation of information, which is nothing more than bullying, seems to have caused the general population to morph into a kind of mob rule, a behavior that disregards facts and logic. The fact that these same industries that educate and inform our youth are so biased is the reason that this current President criticizes them. He is not against the press, he is against a press that is completely unfair, completely biased against him, a press that does not present any positive news about his administration’s accomplishments, but rather runs with any story that trashes him and his policies, regardless of whether or not they are even true.

It is disheartening to see what is happening in this country. We are undergoing a cataclysmic change; we are witnessing a moment of hate and anger that is coming from a group of people who scream at the moon, shout down those they disagree with, who require safe spaces to maintain their sanity, and who blame the side that is not violent or making unusual demands for their pain. They are dividing us in ways that may become dangerous because they are unable to accept their failure to elect Hillary Clinton, a woman who conducted a campaign for President which was fraught with dishonesty and manipulation in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage.

If the respected author, whom I used to enjoy reading, wanted to present an honest book, he would have exposed information on both sides with impartiality. Instead, even when he says something positive about the GOP, he manages to, in the next sentence, subtly cast aspersions upon them. I found it a bit disingenuous that Meacham concentrated on using the word “fear” often, which is the title of a negative book on the President that was just published by Bob Woodward, and which the reader, therefore, can’t help but think of, and at the same time, he also uses the word ‘hope”, which everyone knows is associated with former President Obama’s campaign for President. Although he seems to be searching for our better angels, he seems to be looking for them only on one side of the political spectrum, the “left”. Although it may not be an obvious effort to smear the GOP and the President, the insinuation is loud and clear that they are not taking the country in a direction he wants it to go, nor are those who support Trump, “the better angels” he is seeking. It is his belief that they are taking the country in the wrong direction, and furthermore, they are wrongheaded, as well.

In another book I am reading, which is not quite as partisan, “The Splintering of the American Mind” by William Eggington, a belief of T. S. Eliot’s, regarding the way we currently assess literature is quoted. The quote could just as easily be applied to the way we teach and make decisions today.

According to Egginton: Eliot did not think that the “criterion in selecting authors was gender or the color of their skin”. He believed what should be considered was what made a great work great. He believed it was the ability to encourage “communities to embrace new identities”, to explore “differences with as many of his fellows as possible, in the common pursuit of true judgment.”

Unfortunately, today, conversation and opposing views are discouraged. Meacham has deliberately cherry-picked an abundance of quotes (too many, because they almost negate the idea that he wrote the book; rather, it seems like the sources did since almost every sentence requires a footnote), to support his particular point of view. I did not expect this highly respected author to present so one-sided and unfair a view of our history and our “better angels”. Almost entirely, he ignored the warts of the left and went on to explode those of the right into tumors, tumors depicted as if they were just waiting to swallow America up in hate. It is as if Meacham decided on the premise of the book and then set out to find the quotes that would prove his point. He does not present the obstruction that is coming from his “better angels” in the past and the present day. Perhaps he believes that he and his ilk are the “better angels”, but to me, he did not present an accurate version of the truth.

*I have both print and audio version

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review 2018-09-29 01:47
Disappointed in lack of Gothic feel
Bride of a Stranger - Jennifer Blake

 

“It’s a death gris-gris, and as its counterpart in the hands of the Voodooienne is unwrapped slowly, day by day, it is supposed to cause the cursed one to sicken and die by degrees."

 

This started off with so much promise but ultimately didn't deliver on delicious Gothic feel. We started off with a sheltered, innocent heroine who is swept away by a dark scarred hero to his on the edge of the bayou plantation. There we meet his at odds with mother, still wearing black for the death of his years long dead uncle, his maybe jealous vengeful cousin, a possible voodoo using maybe ex-mistress, a creepy overseer, a parental but maybe shady housekeeper, and a paralyzed unable to speak father. The red-herrings are all over the place.

 

The atmosphere was set nicely with descriptions of the bayou, heat, bugs, and general out in the middle of nowhere. There was a voodoo scene with the slaves performing a ritual that was kind of creepy but other than that, there wasn't enough played around with to make you wonder if the heroine was losing her mind or if the voodoo was real. 

 

The heroine and hero basically spend no time together, which I thought was kind of odd, so you're not reading this for the romance aspect. There wasn't enough creepy, spooky feel for a Gothic either; the mystery has the heroine in bed for most of the book.

 

Helene, that arrogant, time-ravaged beauty, had been in love with her husband’s brother, so in love that ten years later she could still weep her heart out over a mask of his dead face. Her husband’s brother, a married man with a son, a man who was shot to death in a duel with his nephew, Helene’s one son!

 

I kind of got the feeling the author was going for a nothing proves more terrifying than family dynamics. I can't really dispute that. 

 

The mystery could have been better if the heroine would have been able to move around more and the characters given more depth, basically this needed a higher page count as the basic storyline and atmospheric writing was there. The ending gave us a villain info-dump as to why and how that gave it super flop feel and red-herring characters simply deflated like balloons. I can't really recommend this one because the Gothic mystery and the romance was severely lacking, maybe if you like your heroines reclining in bed because of bruised ribs and possible poisonings and/or voodoo curses. 

*I almost forgot to mention the jaguar! Yes, there is a jaguar that lurks around, two or three mentions but it is there, lol.

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review 2018-09-09 20:34
Coming to America: The Story of Immigration
Coming to America : The Story of Immigration - Betsy Maestro,Suzanne Ryan

Coming to America: The Story of Immigration is a wonderful book to help students learn about immigration. The text tells the story of various immigrant groups coming to America and the challenges that they faced. The text also celebrates their cultural contributions to our country. As an extension activity, students could be put in small groups where each group researches one of the cultural groups mentioned in the text in depth and then presents their findings to the class. 

 

Guided Reading level: O

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review 2018-09-09 18:09
Coming to America: The Story of Immigration
Coming to America : The Story of Immigration - Betsy Maestro,Suzanne Ryan

This book tells about the story of immigration and how many people came to America to live a better life. It describes the first time the government opened Ellis Island and the young girl that was the first person to come through that port, Annie Moore. The book also mentions the United States as a melting pot because of the many different kinds of people that now live here. 

This would be a great book to introduce the term immigration and then the teacher could have the students learn about their own family history. This could become a project where the students present their findings to the class. This would allow the students in the class to see the history behind everyone else in the class and try to understand each other a little more. 

 

Grade 3-5

Book Level:

Lexile AD890L

Accelerated Reader 5.9

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