logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: jewish-lit
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-11-07 14:40
The Status Seekers by Vance Packard
The Status Seekers - Packard Vance Oakley

An exploration of class behavior in America and the hidden barriers that affect you, your community, your future.

"IS AMERICA A CLASSLESS SOCIETY? NO! says best-selling author Vance Packard in this scorching investigation of the status and class structure of our society. The car you drive, the church you attend, where you went to school, the house you live in -- even your choice of words -- are brandings of your place in society. This is your status -- and you may be stuck with it, like it or not. The author minces no words in letting the reader know exactly who he is, how he measures up, where he is likely to go -- and where, because of society's harsh rules, he is NOT likely to go."

~ from back cover (1963 Cardinal Books paperback edition)

 

 

 

First published in 1959, The Status Seekers is a nonfiction work that looks at the various distinctions and divisions that crop up among social classes. As a starting point for his investigation, Packard poses the question, "Are we, as a society, classless?". Though this book will understandably read dated in some parts, there's still quite a bit here that will ring relevant in today's world!

 

Packard notes how people, in general, seem to constantly be measuring up their current position in society: assessing, judging, critiquing, approving, dismissing. People find themselves tempted to buy status symbols, hoping it will gain them the good favor of their peers, neighbors, co-workers, etc. We strive to have an abundance of leisure time because having a wealth of downtime, in a way, is a symbol of high status. Even when it comes to employment, people sometimes even take lower paying positions if it happens to be with a company that has more social respectability (ie. taking a sales job over factory work even if the factory pays better). Even children show signs of picking up on class distinctions.

 

But Packard asks, what do you do if those people you wish to impress don't approve of your "lower class" acquaintances? How far do you take your need to get in with the "in crowd"? Where is the limit, the cut-off where you put your foot down and refuse to change...do you have one, even? It gives the reader something to consider, for sure. 

 

Packard also looks at class distinctions when it comes to various ethnic groups. To gather data for this book, he based himself in New York City, studying people from various minority communities, coming to the conclusion that class division seems to get more complex when social barriers run up against ethnic barriers. While observing the different communities in NYC, he was stunned to find that while there are barriers between minorities and Caucasian communities, there also seems to be ethic ranking between minorities groups -- he describes witnessing, on numerous occassions, people from Irish, Italian, and African American communities all turning / looking down on people from the Puerto Rican neighborhoods. 

 

Within this text, Packard divides his research up into five units. Here's a general breakdown:

 

Pt. 1: Looks at how status, generally speaking, tends to be achieved and looks at the likely reasons people feel so driven to achieve high social status.

 

Pt. 2: Looks at the markers of status -- home, neighborhood, job, school, etc. Chapter 5 in this section is especially interesting, as it looks at "snob appeal" -- being part of an elite social club (paid membership or invite only) -- how far does that get you?; striving for that idyllic, Pleasantville kind of "home sweet home", the constant one-upping. He looks at the historical development of status symbols: once cars became more affordable, people seemed to make the home the major symbol of their good fortune in life. He also mentions the old trend of real estate agents writing up home listing partly in French to try to entice high bidders because French was considered "the language of snobs" LOL.

 

 

Part 2 also looks at the determining factors behind how much prestige a particular job might garner a person. One has to take into account how high up in the company the position gets you, the amount of authority and / or responsibility you have in that position, the type of clothes you wear for work, how much intelligence / experience is required to obtain that position, the dignity that comes with the title, financial rewards, even the very address of your office! 

 

Even if your line of work is farming, Packard points out that you can be judged on the amount of acreage you have, what kinds of crops you work with, etc. People can lump a farmer into "limited success bracket" range unless he's working with huge acreage. 

 

Packard even gets into the hierarchy that has historically existed within the field of prostitution! 

 

Lastly, he looks at barriers and adjustment periods that tend to develop for people coming from different social classes or races, especially the effect on interracial relationships. 

 

Pt. 3: Considers the "Strains of Status": what long-term price does one ultimately pay for aspiring to levels of presumed social success and respectability? Packard gets into the various mental illnesses that one might potentially develop from the strain of trying to measure up -- anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, ulcers, hypertension, allergies, other physical or psychosomatic problems. 

 

Pt. 4: "Trends" of Status Seeking --- Packard's guess on where it looks like (or what it looked like in the 1950s-1960s, that is) this compulsion to steadily socially elevate oneself might be headed, the patterns / evidence in history that give us clues. This was one area where even readers of today can look at his thoughts and see, even now, he was not too far off on some of his estimations!

 

Pt. 5: looks at implications for the future... what does this drive for status mean for the future prosperity of the human race as a whole? 

 

 

Though Packard does try to focus on facts and research for this book (as he should, of course), I also quite enjoyed when he would interject some of his own commentary on topics here and there. He offers asides here and there such as "class boundaries are contrary to the American Dream"; noting that discussion of class distinction, he found, generally make people uncomfortable but he did notice wives, as a whole, seemed to be more conscious of status than their husbands; at one point he even remarks, "Californians are the least status-conscious people in the nation." SAY WHAT?! Being a native Southern Californian myself, I laughed out loud reading this as that is anything but the truth these days! :-P Even if I didn't always agree with the guy, lines like these certain kept me turning pages to see what else he threw out there! 

 

For an economics based book, I found Status Seekers (surprisingly) highly entertaining! Packard gets into a lot of engrossing, thought-provoking subject matter, not to mention that this one is likely to be kind of a fun read (even if just to browse through) for history buffs. It's neat to have works like this where readers of today can get a sort of first-hand look back at what economics and society looked like a few generations back and compare it to how far (and maybe how not that far at all sometimes, lol) we've come today! 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-10-08 14:11
Four stories of the man as a young artist. For lovers of experimental literary fiction and New York.
4 3 2 1 - Paul Auster

Thanks to NetGalley and to Faber & Faber for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I’ve been following with interest the Man-Booker Prize this year and realised I had quite a few of the books on my list to be read and decided to try and read in a timely manner and see how my opinion compared to that of the judges. When the shortlist was announced, only one of the books I had read so far had made it, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, a book I really enjoyed. And then I got the chance to read 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster, another one of the novels shortlisted, and I could not resist.

I had read a novel by Paul Auster years back, The Book of Illusions and although I remember I enjoyed it, I had never read another one of his books until now. It wasn’t a conscious decision, and I had always kept in mind that at some point I should pick up another one of his books but that day hadn’t arrived.

I hadn’t read anything about this novel before I started reading it, other than it had been shortlisted for the Man-Booker, and therefore I was a bit surprised and confused, to begin with.

First, as happens with e-books, I had no idea how long it was. It’s around the 900 pages mark. Second, I didn’t realise it was a fairly experimental novel, or, at least its structure was not standard. The novel starts as if it was going to be a family saga, with the story of a Jewish immigrant arriving in New York, and we follow his story and that of his family for a couple of generations until we get to the birth of a boy, Archibald Ferguson. He doesn’t like his first name that much and for the rest of the novel he is referred to as Ferguson. When things start getting weird is when at some point you become aware that you are reading four different versions of his life. These are narrated in the third person, although always from the point of view of the character, and yes, they are numbered.  So the first chapter (or part), you would have 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and then, the next part would be 2.1… and so on. The story (stories) are told chronologically but chopped up into bits. Some of the reviewers have commented that you need to be a member of MENSA to remember and differentiate the various stories, because yes, there are differences (fate seems to play a big part, as sometimes due to incidents that happen to his family, financial difficulties, relationship issues… the story takes a different turn and deviates from the other versions), but these are not huge, and it is difficult to keep in your mind which one of the versions is which one (at times I would have been reading for a while before I could remember how this version was different to the one I had just been reading). Because the differences are not major (yes, in one version he ends up going to a university and in another to a different one, in one he works at a newspaper and in another starts writing books, in one he goes out with a girl and in another they are only friends…), and the characters are pretty much the same in all versions (although sometimes their behaviour is quite different) it makes the stories very similar. Added to that, all versions of the character are also very similar as if the different circumstances were not earth-shattering and had not affected that much the development of his boy (in the debate of nature, nurture, it’s safe to say Auster supports nature). The devil seems to be in the detail, or perhaps the point is that we might strongly believe that there are moments when our decisions could have sent us down one path or a completely different one (Sliding Doors anyone?), but the truth is that of all the infinite possibilities (and that makes me think of a book I read very recently, Do You Realize?) only one is conducive to life as we know it (the Goldilocks theory of life. Neither too hot nor too cold, just right) and our life was meant to be as it if.

Ferguson loves films and is a bit of a film buff (there are lengthy digressions about Laurel & Hardy, the French New Wave, American Films…), he also loves books and writing, and some versions of the story include his translations of French poets, or his own stories (that sometimes end up being exactly the same as the story we are reading, and others are either full stories or fragments of the books he is writing), and sports, mostly baseball, although also basketball.

Towards the end of the book (well, it’s a long book, so let’s say from the time the characters goes to college), we get much more detailed information about politics and historical events in America. There are lengthy descriptions of reactions to the murders of J.F.K, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, race riots, the Black Power Movement, the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, the Columbia University demonstrations and student political organisations, and also about New York and Paris (more New York than Paris) in the 1960s and early 70s. Although in one of the versions Ferguson is attending Columbia, he is a reporter and even when he is physically there, he narrates the events as an observer rather than as if he was personally involved. His engagement seems to be intellectual above all, no matter what version of Ferguson we read, although the reasons for his attitude might be different.

I don’t want to end up with a review as long as the book itself, and after checking other reviews of the book, I thought I’d share a couple I particularly liked, so you can have a look.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1909935118?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/paul-austers-novel-of-chance

What I thought the book did very well, in all its versions, was to capture the feelings and the thoughts of a teenager and young man (although, as I’m a woman, I might be completely wrong). Although the emphasis is slightly different in each version, that is fairly consistent and rings true. As a writer and film lover, I enjoyed the comments about books and movies, although these could be frustrating to some readers. I also enjoyed the works in progress of the various Fergusons (some more than others) but this could again be annoying to readers who prefer to follow a story and not wander and float in flights of fancy. I agree with some of the comments I’ve read that the latter part of the book is slowed down even more by the endless description of incidents at Columbia that, no matter the version of the story we read, are analytically reported rather than brought to life.

My main problem with the book is that I did not connect that much with the main character. Considering the amount of time readers get to spend with the different versions of Ferguson, we get to know him, but I did not feel for him. Strangely enough, sometimes I felt more connected to some of the other characters in the story (his mother in some versions, some of his friends, a teacher…) than I did to him. I’m not sure if it was because it all felt very artificial, or because none of the versions completely gelled for me. I admired his intellect but did not connect at an emotional level and I did not care for him. I’m aware that readers who know Auster’s oeuvre better have commented on the biographical similarities with his own life, and I’m aware that he has denied it is (or are) his story. There are, for sure, many points of contact. Some readers have compared it to books that have used a somewhat similar format to tell their stories, but as I haven’t read any, I will not comment on that. The ending, metafictional as was to be expected, will probably satisfy more those who enjoy formal literary experiments than those looking for a good story. I do not think many people will find it surprising, but I don’t think that was the author’s goal. The writing is good, sometimes deep and challenging, others more perfunctory. And yes, I still intend to read other Auster’s books in the future.

In sum, a fascinating exercise in writing, that will be of interest primarily to followers of Auster’s career, to those who love experimental literary fiction, particularly those interested also in films, literature, the writing process, sports, and New York. Not a book I’d recommend to those who love dynamic stories with exciting plots, or those who prefer to emotionally engage with characters. Ah, and it requires a reasonable memory and a serious investment of time.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-08-01 22:02
For discerning readers who enjoy books about the human condition
A Horse Walks into a Bar: A novel - David Grossman,Jessica Cohen

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Jonathan Cape for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is the first book I’ve read by David Grossman. I hope it won’t be the last.

The description probably gives a fair idea of the plot. Yes, we are in Netanya, Israel, and we are spectators of the act of a stand-up comedian, Dovelah Greenstein (or Dov G.). He is 57 years old (as he repeatedly reminds us through the evening), skinny (almost emaciated), and seems to become increasingly desperate as the night goes. He tells jokes, anecdotes, makes comments about the city, the spectators, Jews (yes, the self-deprecation readers of Philip Roth, for example, will be familiar with), says some politically incorrect things, tells a number of jokes (some really funny, some odd, some quite old), and insists on telling us a story about his childhood, despite the audience’s resistance to listening to it.

The beauty (or one of them) of the novel, is the narrator. Yes, I’m back to my obsession with narrators. The story is told in the first-person by Avishai Lazar, a judge who was unceremoniously removed from his post when he started becoming a bit too vocal and opinionated in his verdicts. The two characters were friends as children, and Dov calls Avishai asking him to attend his performance. His request does not only come completely out of the blue (they hadn’t seen each other since they were in their teens), but it is also quite weird. He does not want a chat, or to catch up on old times. He wants the judge to tell him what he sees when he looks at him. He wants him to tell him what other people see, what essence they perceive when they watch him. Avishai, who is a widower and still grieving, is put-off by this and reacts quite rudely, but eventually, agrees.

Although the novel is about Dov’s performance and his story (his need to let it all hang out, to explain his abuse but also his feeling of guilt about a personal tragedy), that is at times light and funny, but mostly sad and even tragic, he is not the character who changes and grows the most during the performance (his is an act of exorcism, a way of getting rid of his demons). For me, the story, sad and depressing as it can be at times (this is not a book for everybody, and I suspect many readers will empathise with quite a few of the spectators who leave the performance before it ends), is ultimately about redemption. Many narrators have told us in the past (The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness) that in telling somebody else’s story, they are also telling their own. This is indeed the case here. The judge (at first we don’t know who is narrating the story, but we get more and more details as the performance advances) is very hostile at first and keeps wondering why he is there, and wanting to leave. But at some point, the rawness, the determination, and the sheer courage of the comedian, who keeps going no matter how difficult it gets, break through his protective shell and he starts to question his own actions and his life. If this might be Dev’s last performance, in a way it is a beginning of sorts, especially for the judge.

Readers become the ersatz club audience, and it is very difficult to stop watching something that is so extreme and desperate, but it is also difficult to keep watching (or reading) as it becomes more and more painful. It is as if we were spectators in a therapy session where somebody is baring his soul. We feel as if we are intruding on an intimate moment, but also that perhaps we are providing him with some comfort and support to help him go through the process. Although other than the two main characters we do not get to know the rest in detail, there are familiar types we might recognise, and there is also a woman who knew the comedian when he was a child and, perhaps, plays the part of the therapist (a straight faced one, but the one he needs).

The book is beautifully written and observed. Grossman shows a great understanding of psychology and also of group interactions. Although I am not an expert on stand-up comedy, the dynamics of the performance rang true to me. I cannot compare it to the original, but the translation is impressive (I find it difficult to imagine anybody could do a better job, and if the original is even better, well…).

As I said before, this is not a book for everybody. Although it is quite short, it is also slow and intense (its rhythm is that of the performance, which ebbs and flows). None of the characters (except, perhaps, the woman) are immediately sympathetic, and they are flawed, not confident enough or too confident and dismissive, over-emotional or frozen and unable to feel, and they might not seem to have much in common with the reader, at first sight. This is not a genre book (literary fiction would be the right label, if we had to try and give it one), there is no romance (or not conventional romance), no action, no heroes or heroines, and not much happens (a whole life happens, but not in the usual sense). If you are interested in characters that are real in their humanity (for better and for worse), don’t mind a challenge, and want to explore something beyond the usual, I recommend you this book.

Like Reblog Comment
review 2017-07-26 00:00
Knit One, Girl Two: a sweet Jewish f/f contemporary romance
Knit One, Girl Two: a sweet Jewish f/f c... Knit One, Girl Two: a sweet Jewish f/f contemporary romance - Shira Glassman,Jane Dominguez,J.L. Douglas,Áine Noonan ADORABLE HAPPINESS SQUEEE

Everything about this was amazing. I've been a huge fan of Shira's on Twitter for awhile now and really, really needed a quick dose of happy today.

She delivered in spades! It's all so cheery and real but like a better real. Not my reality but someone else's and knowing it's out there makes me feel so much better.
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-07-12 15:02
The Book of Dahlia, by Elisa Albert
The Book of Dahlia - Elisa Albert

Dahlia Finger is kind of an asshole. She's 29 and spends her days sprawled out on her couch, smoking weed and watching movies, funded by her well-off father. One night she has a seizure and learns that she has a brain tumor. Though no one will actually say it, she doesn't have long to live.

 

This is not one of those novels of illness where there's redemption ahead or that's supposed to make you hopeful and grateful for life (beyond not having a brain tumor). For that reason, I appreciated and responded to it. Unlike all the books on cancer Dahlia and her parents buy in bulk that say "you can beat this thing" if only you have the right attitude, in effect making you responsible (and to blame) for your own illness, The Book of Dahlia illustrates how we as a culture fail to deal with mortality. Though it's not addressed specifically in the novel, I personally wonder how much that American idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is at play, which easily translates into victim-blaming when one can't.

 

One of the platitudes often given regarding illness and healing is that a sufferer must let go of old resentments and anger, that these can make or keep one sick. As Dahlia considers and recounts her past, it's clear she has almost nothing but resentments, from a mother who essentially abandoned her family to the older brother, once close, who took out his own pain on her in the cruelest ways. Throughout her life she's plainly asked for help and been ignored. Maybe it says something about me that I couldn't blame her for her stubbornness in forgiving and forgetting. It feels like the only way she's able to have any agency during her illness.

 

If this sounds grim, it's not, or not only! Dahlia's voice is often funny, enough to make me laugh out loud while reading. Her humor may be bitter, but that suits me fine. At the end of the book there was a reading group guide that asked more than one question about whether one is able to sympathize with her; I absolutely could. I often like female characters in popular culture that others find abrasive, though I often wonder how much it's about gender.

 

The toughest and most affecting aspect of this book was the relationship between Dahlia and her older brother. As a younger sister myself, I'm always interested in and more sensitive to depictions of that dynamic. It broke my heart to read about the turn their relationship takes, how long Dahlia holds out and has faith in him, even insulting herself to get ahead of his insulting her. I both wanted and did not want Dahlia to forgive him. It made me want to call my own brother and thank him for not being a dick!

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?