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review 2018-04-14 01:29
The Complete Maus (25th Anniversary Ed.) by Art Spiegelman | Holocaust Remembrance Week
The Complete Maus - Art Spiegelman

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in “drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust” (The New York Times).
Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Inspired by the Holocaust experience of his own parents, cartoonist Art Spiegelman writes and illustrates this Pulitzer Prize wining story of a grown son, also a cartoonist (yes, this one is in the meta / semi-autobio style) who sits down with his father, Vladek  Spiegelman, to record Vladek's story with the intent to publish it. Perhaps to soften some of the more violent aspects of Vladek's story, the tale is told anthropomorphically-- Nazi soldiers are portrayed as big, burly cats, Jewish prisoners are mice, and one African-American man is illustrated as a black dog. 

 

 

Vladek starts with the story of meeting his wife, Anja, and their years together as newlyweds prior to the war. In 1938, Anja develops post-partum depression and is taken to a sanitarium in Czechoslovakia where she experiences, for the first time, full-force anti-Semitism. From there, the war story of Anja and Vladek only gets more painful. Even Anja's millionaire parents couldn't buy her safety. Once captured, Vladek explains that he was able to get some leniency with the Germans because even though his family was Polish, he could speak and write in German, so the Nazis found him useful. 

 

This special anniversary edition features the entire story, Vols 1 & 2, together in one book. As I mentioned before, the story does dip in and out of meta style storytelling. Towards the middle of the book, there is a kind of mini-comic insert where author Art Spiegelman tells the real life tragic story of his own mother's suicide. This book as a whole is not for the faint of heart. There are illustrations of mice with nooses around their necks, descriptions of children being picked up by their legs and swung into brick walls to stop them from crying / screaming (the noise giving away the location of those in hiding). Near the end of Vol. 2 there is also pretty detailed description of the interiors of the gas chambers. This edition also features one color map (the rest of the book is done in black and white) that shows the full layout of the Auschwitz camp. 

 

 

 

Blended with the Holocaust theme, Spiegelman also brings in a modern day father-son relationship story of a grown man honestly trying to make the effort to finally, hopefully, understand the father who has always slightly confounded him. There are some tense life truths brought to the table during these scenes but it provided a relatable, poignant layer to the whole experience that I came to really appreciate. 

 

If you're now reading this thinking, "Man, there is no way I could get through anything that dark," Spiegelman might have had such readers in mind because he does offer moments of levity as well. There's the somewhat scary but also creepy-humorous story of Lucia, the woman who went Stage 5 Clinger on Vladek when he became interested in someone else.

 

 

 

 

Old man Vladek is also dad-funny during his conversations with his son, saying things like "famous like that one guy".... I don't know though, there were a few moments there where old Vladek was coming off as pretty strongly racist himself... so it left me with mixed feelings about him. 

 

I'm glad I finally took the opportunity to experience this epic graphic novel I've heard so much about over the years. The story is a tough one to take, but important to hear. Truthfully though, I'm not sure it's one I see myself revisiting, at least not any time soon. 

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review 2018-02-21 10:05
Snow-Storm In August by Jefferson Morley
Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 - Jefferson Morley

On the night of August 4th, Arthur Bowen, an eighteen-year-old slave, stumbled into the bedroom where his owner, Anna Thornton, slept. He had an ax in the crook of his arm. An alarm was raised, and he ran away. Word of the incident spread rapidly, and within days, Washington's first race riot exploded, as whites fearing a slave rebellion attacked the property of the free blacks. Residents dubbed the event the “Snow-Storm," in reference to the central role of Beverly Snow, a flamboyant former slave turned successful restaurateur, who became the target of the mob's rage. In the wake of the riot came two sensational criminal trials that gripped the city. Prosecuting both cases was none other than Francis Scott Key, a politically ambitious attorney famous for writing the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” who few now remember served as the city's district attorney for eight years. Key defended slavery until the twilight's last gleaming, and pandered to racial fears by seeking capital punishment for Arthur Bowen. But in a surprise twist his prosecution was thwarted by Arthur's ostensible victim, Anna Thornton, a respected socialite who sought the help of President Andrew Jackson. Ranging beyond the familiar confines of the White House and the Capitol, Snow-Storm in August delivers readers into an unknown chapter of American history with a textured and absorbing account of the racial secrets and contradictions that coursed beneath the freewheeling capital of a rising world power.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

The synopsis gives you the gist of the "snow-storm" portion of this book, the largely forgotten 1835 race riot in Washington D.C., primarily between white lawmakers / defenders and former slaves, a key (if unintended) player being the bi-racial (male) chef & restaurateur Beverly Snow. Snow not only suffers attacks on his business but also has his home vandalized and the safety of his family threatened. 

 

That story alone would be powerful enough but Morley's work here -- an expansion on his 2005 Washington Post article -- offers readers so much more. We also get an education in the early development stages of our nation's capital, then known simply as Washington City. Morley also gets into the topic of colonization and which of D.C.'s bigwigs were on what side. You might be surprised to learn how it pans out! 

 

Some of my takeaways from this book:

 

RE: DEVELOPMENT OF WASHINGTON D.C.:

 

* Where to set up shop for the nation's capital? Hmmm. Well, the U.S. had racked up a mountain of debt after the War of Independence. Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton wanted to set up the capital in Pennsylvania but Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson countered, saying he had a debt plan but Southern members of Congress would never go for it unless Congress' Northerners agreed to set up the capital in a more southern region. Pennsylvania was also largely anti-slavery, had a strong Quaker (recognized abolitionists) population. Jefferson recommended putting the capital along Virginia-Maryland territory, where there were good banking options and slavery was still legal. Hamilton appeared to have no objection. 

 

* The design for D.C. was modeled after Paris -- the canals, boulevards, stately buildings -- so much so that George Washington even hired French engineer Pierre L'Enfant to oversee the project. Prior to this Parisian design, author Charles Dickens had had a visit to the city and likened it to a wild, western frontier town. Morley adds, " 'The whole affair,' said another visitor, ' looked as if some giant had scattered a box of his child's toys at random on the ground.'

 

* D.C.'s Capitol Bldg was designed by William Thornton, a slaveholder who pushed for colonization. In one story in this book, Thornton came to the aid of the battered wife of a French diplomat, proclaiming, "I know the laws of humanity and I mean to uphold them." Thornton was also rumored to be the father of Arthur Bowen, son of Maria, house servant to Anna Thornton (William's wife).

 

Personally, I was left with mixed feelings on Thornton. Morley describes him as having "a thirst for liberty but a weak will", creative dreamer type, high ideals, distracted easily but highly personable... but he also seemed to lack much of a backbone, often going with majority rule.

 

 

 

COLONIZATION

 

* The Commonwealth of Virginia had an 1806 law on the books that basically said that freed slaves must leave the state within a year or they could be apprehended and sold back into slavery, only being allowed to stay within the Commonwealth area past that first year IF they could get a signed endorsement from a white citizen, petitioning the state legislature to allow the freed person in question to stay. 

 

* By the 1830s, colonization had become quite the divisive topic around Washington. Colonization was the suggested idea that freed slaves could be sent back to Africa to set up a new colony of freed people. There were supporters for this idea in both white and black communities. White racists saw it as a way to get rid of those they deemed second-class citizens, while some black communities saw it as an ideal opportunity to distance themselves from said racists and slaveholders who seemed determined to make free life miserable for them. But colonization was sort of an all or nothing proposition... the intent was that if some went, everyone had to go... and some, as in the case with Beverly Snow, had a perfectly good life in DC that they didn't want to give up. There was quite a large group of supporters for the idea though, including some of Snow's white friends! 

 

RE: BEVERLY SNOW

 

* By the 1830s, Washington D.C. had developed a solid horse racing community. Even President Andrew Jackson was said to make a big show of placing bets (though it seems his luck wasn't so good lol). Beverly Snow first developed clientele in the city as a street vendor outside racing arenas. After developing some success on that front, he went on to open an oyster house, becoming the first restaurateur to offer fine dining experiences in D.C. Pity that a cholera outbreak in 1832 ended up wiping out nearly 500 citizens, putting a bit of a dent in his business! But he hangs in there, and once the first restaurant does well, he moves on to open a second, even more upscale establishment. 

 

* Snow was pretty innovative for his time when it came to the restaurant business! He became well known for his turtle soup, which he would offer only periodically, advertising that the soup was "restorative"... see? promo-ing health benefits, whether they're proven or not! By the way, consider yourself warned here, vegans/ vegetarians: Morley includes a play-by-play of how this turtle soup was prepared. 

 

AND THEN THERE'S THE WHOLE FRANCIS SCOTT KEY BIT

 

* Famously penned the poem that would later turn into the U.S. national anthem... many years after it was set to the music of a drinking song we stole from our British cousins ;-) The popularity of that poem turned out to be a much needed reputation restorer for Key after an embarrassing display of turn-tail-and-run during the War of 1812. Key had the poem published in papers, later got the idea to set it to music. Also, weirdly, barely mentioned any of this to his wife but thoroughly discussed with his brother-in-law, Roger Taney. Taney was a racist lawyer famous for the Dred Scott case as well as his backing of a South Carolina law allowing black seamen to be arrested once they stepped off their in-port ships.

 

* Supporter of colonization and, it seems, not quite so anti-slavery as you might have been taught in school. Key had a public persona for being an ally for black citizens, periodically defending them in court (at least at the beginning of his legal career), but his actions in his off-time suggested opposite leanings. 

 

* Key, who served as D.C. district attorney for 8 years, was called in as prosecuting attorney for both the Snow case and that of Arthur Bowen, (see Thornton sect. above). Bowen was said to have been found in the bedroom of Anna Thornton one night, holding an ax over her head as she slept. Arthur's mother was also in the room (asleep) at the time, once awakened was able to usher Arthur out of the room, tried to get him out of the house but police had already been summoned. Key sought capital punishment for Bowen. 

        > Anna Thornton tried to fight for Arthur's freedom. For his protection, she tried to get him resold before his trial date but everyone she appealed to declined to help her. Anna went directly to Key, even requested a meeting with President Jackson himself, after writing him an 18 page letter (which she got in a carriage, rode to WH and hand delivered herself!) pleading Arthur's case, this letter including a petition sheet full of signatures from others also begging for the man's freedom. Bombarded with all this, Jackson eventually instructed Key to go along with the request. 

       >Two days after Arthur's arrest, abolitionist Reuben Crandall was arrested for being suspected of distributing anti-slavery periodicals / pamphlets (Good laugh over the bit that discusses Key's own words being turned on him during this trial!). A white mob developed shortly after and since they couldn't get to Crandall, they went after Beverly Snow (after a rumor got around that Snow was liberally tossing around "coarse or derogatory remarks" regarding white women of Washington. Snow's professional successes combined with his perceived cockiness had already made him the enemy of many white men in town. 

       > Snow escaped harm to himself but the mob did trash his home & establishment, though they were instructed not to break any of the furniture, as Snow had it on loan from a white man.  

 

 

Though it does take a bit of time (approx. 120 pages) to get into the bulk of the race riot topic, the "snow-storm" as it's termed, the history here is fascinating. BTW, also mentioned in this book: the bungled / thwarted assassination attempt on Andrew Jackson.

 

It doesn't leave you with the most glowing image of some of our country's most notable names in history, but it is history that is vitally important to be aware of just the same. Morley also includes an inset of pages featuring photographs, paintings, and news articles of the period showcasing some of the key players in this unsavory bit of history. 

 

 

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review 2018-01-29 07:55
Waking From The Dream: Struggle For Civil Rights In The Shadow Of MLK by David L. Chappell
Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. - David L. Chappell

The author of A Stone of Hope, called “one of the three or four most important books on the civil rights movement” by The Atlantic Monthly, turns his attention to the years after Martin Luther King’s assassination—and provides a sweeping history of the struggle to keep the civil rights movement alive and to realize King’s vision of an equal society. In this arresting and groundbreaking account, David L. Chappell reveals that, far from coming to an abrupt end with King’s murder, the civil rights movement entered a new phase. It both grew and splintered. These were years when decisive, historic victories were no longer within reach—the movement’s achievements were instead hard-won, and their meanings unsettled. From the fight to pass the Fair Housing Act in 1968, to debates over unity and leadership at the National Black Political Conventions, to the campaign for full-employment legislation, to the surprising enactment of the Martin Luther King holiday, to Jesse Jackson’s quixotic presidential campaigns, veterans of the movement struggled to rally around common goals. Waking from the Dream documents this struggle, including moments when the movement seemed on the verge of dissolution, and the monumental efforts of its members to persevere. For this watershed study of a much-neglected period, Chappell spent ten years sifting through a voluminous public record: congressional hearings and government documents; the archives of pro– and anti–civil rights activists, oral and written remembrances of King’s successors and rivals, documentary film footage, and long-forgotten coverage of events from African American newspapers and journals.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Waking From The Dream examines the years immediately following the murder of Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how that tragedy affected the movement as a whole. This book covers a good chunk of history you likely were not taught in school. 

 

It turns out a number of men tried to step in as MLK's successor as one of the key leaders in the Civil Rights Movement -- Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and even actor Ossie Davis (who later portrayed Dr. King in a 1978 NBC documentary) were all approached with offers to take over. 

 

One of the sections of the book that held my interest most were the years concerning MLK's widow, Coretta Scott King, and the journey she took to build and maintain her husband's historical legacy. Following the death of her husband, Coretta was often brought out as a kind of figure of the cost of the movement, but she came to really despise this move. She said she was tired of being used as a pawn to drum up sympathy and anger in crowds. While reaching large audiences was important to the cause, she felt this method just felt wrong. She decided she would try to fly solo while continuing her husband's work. 

 

Dr. King & wife Coretta Scott King

 

In 1978, Coretta King heads up the Full Employment Action Council, whose purpose was to address the plight of impoverished black and white citizens alike. By 1979, Coretta begins to campaign for a national MLK Day. Other activists in the Civil Rights Movement had tried for this immediately following Dr. King's death and every year after -- musician James Brown even met with President Richard Nixon AND President Ronald Reagan to try to get the process moving -- but their requests continued to fall on deaf ears. Those in opposition to the holiday would often give speeches tying Dr. King to communism or would imply that his work actually low-key incited violence.  Dr. King's opposers would claim that he was okay with prejudiced behavior as long as it swung in favor of the black community. They'd also imply that he knew how to work around the law, not with it. Surprisingly, even the Congressional Black Caucus came forward and said there were bigger fish to fry.

 

                                    musician James Brown & Rev. Al Sharpton

at the White House in 1982

 

 

 

Even with Coretta's efforts, the holiday wasn't made official until 1983, under President  Reagan (though it took some time before he was fully on board with the idea). Once MLK Day was made official, Reagan came forward with this statement:

 

"Though Dr. King and I may not have exactly had identical political philosophies, we did share a deep belief in freedom and justice under God. Freedom is not something to be secured in any one moment of time. We must struggle to preserve it every day. And freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. History shows that Dr. King's approach achieved great results in a comparatively short time, which was exactly what America needed...What he accomplished -- not just for black Americans, but all Americans --- he lifted a heavy burden from this country."

 

Ronald Reagan signs document making MLK Day 

a national holiday

 

Mrs. King went on to develop a friendship with President Jimmy Carter, even awarding him the MLK Nonviolent Peace Prize in 1979. Senator Ted Kennedy and Carter started using the award as a icebreaker that would develop into a platform to win votes for the Democratic Party. Coretta Scott King was not given credit whenever the award was mentioned. 

 

The portion of this book that's the toughest pill to swallow is the light author David Chappell sheds on Dr. King, the man, not the historical figure. This means readers will read information regarding such topics as MLK's fondness for ladies and rumored infidelity as well as the plagiarism scandal around his college papers (and whether his PhD had been honestly earned) that rocked Boston University. 

 

Clayborn Carson, the editor of Dr. King's papers said that in his research he found that there were "instances of plagiarism" in King's works, but that "in most instances King was probably sloppy rather than deliberately deceptive." Dr. Jack Boozer, a professor of religion at Emory University, discovered that some of his work had been plagiarized by Dr. King. After Boozer's death, his widow was interviewed and said that Dr. Boozer never cared all that much that King used his words, instead was glad he could be of help to the man. But she also admits that when Boozer first heard the story that he didn't speak on the matter at all for a full two days. 

 

There were also quite a few pages in King's dissertation paper missing footnotes that should have cited source material. No one could quite agree whether this was intentional or not, but it looks especially bad when combined with suspected plagiarized passages. One of the large reasons it caused such controversy is that any other university student in line for a doctorate would have likely been failed over such oversights. King's naysayers were quick to point out that King held a C average while at Morehouse University, arguing that clearly this was a case of racial bias. Some were further angered by the fact that years later, when Brown U officials looked into the matter, they came back with the response that suspicious material had been found in King's files but that the college had decided against retroactively retracting his PhD. 

 

But this book isn't meant as a means to shatter the legacy of Dr. King, but to offer a balanced presentation of the man and his life, and the impact of his work generations later. It might not be the best book out there on the topic (which I cringe to say, after reading that the author spent a decade putting this material together). Some material, such as that regarding the Little Rock Nine, was pretty glossed over.  Still, it remains an important read towards developing a well-rounded education. Yes, it's disheartening to read of the struggle of civil rights activists, the way our government drafted Civil Rights Acts but watered them down so much before having them passed that they offered little to no help. But as some activists were known to say at the time, "If you are digging a trench with a spoon and someone offers you a shovel, you don't turn them down because they didn't offer you a bulldozer."

 

If baby steps is how we get to progress and success, then so be it. And in the process it's important to learn ALL the facts, take in ALL the information available and make informed decisions from there. That might mean that some of the veneer gets chipped off our heroes in the process, but I personally find it beneficial to be reminded that at the end of the day, these great feats were carried out by mortal, flawed, everyday humans just like me... not infallible gods. It helps make my little efforts all the more meaningful. 

 

Lastly, there's a footnote in this book that stunned me, which says that when Martin Luther King was leaning over the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, talking to Rev. Jesse James standing in the parking lot on that fateful day... well, it's hypothesized that had Dr. King been standing fully upright rather than leaning over the balcony, he likely would not have been shot in the face and could have possibly survived. 

 

 

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review 2017-12-21 05:35
Nickel & Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America - Barbara Ehrenreich

Millions of Americans work for poverty-level wages, and one day Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 to $7 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered that even the "lowliest" occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts. And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors. Nickel and Dimed reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity -- a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate strategies for survival. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Ohhh, where to start with this one. It sure left me with mixed feelings on Ehrenreich's work here, since I live the life she "experiments" with ... and while some of her observations were thought-provoking, others were laughably off-base and, well... if I'm being honest... kinda offensive to us "regular workin' folk" class. 

 

The cringe factor starts on the very first page with Ehrenreich sharing how the idea for this book came about -- enjoying a "sumptuous $30 lunch" (no joke, that's where we start), she conversationally suggests the idea to her editor that someone (not necessarily her, but someone) should do "old fashioned journalism" (ie. getting out there in the trenches) on the very bottom of the working class... people trying to survive on minimum wage and / or welfare. When her editor proposes she herself take on such a project, at first she has a mountain of objections but then starts to like the idea of being in a scientist role again (she has a PhD in biology). Too bad she didn't take this whole thing more seriously because her idea had the potential to be quite the eye-opening expose! 

 

But how do we start Chapter 2 once she's agreed to take on this work? I quote, "Mostly out of laziness, I decide to start my low-wage life in the town nearest to where I actually live..." Not a great start, but I decided to hear her out. Ehrenreich lays out the plan: over the course of many months, she will travel to various towns across the U.S. and work undercover in a number of low-paying positions. These positions include a waitress job in Key West, FL; "nutritional aide" (aka dishwasher) at a nursing home, and a position on a home cleaning crew in Maine (where company policy, in the interest of time alloted for each job, emphasized the appearance of clean rather than the reality of it, with truly disinfected surfaces), the company a competitor of Merry Maids. She also tries out working at a Mennard's (she describes as a "Home Depot-like chain", if you don't have one in your area) in Minnesota. While working at this Mennard's, she's also hired on at a Walmart. In the final pages of this book, discussing this final job of the project (at Walmart), she relays how she found her inner Norma Rae. Here, Ehrenreich does offer some interesting work on the topic of "time theft" and the little footnote on the history of lawsuits with the company was jaw-dropping!

 

So I said I had mixed feelings.

 

Here's a rundown of what DID work for me:

 

* Having worked in retail myself for a number of years, I can commiserate with her stress over store layout changes and just the general, deep, full-body fatigue that comes with that work. 

 

* Having also worked in the hospitality industry, I got MAJOR nostalgia when she talks of housekeepers turning on the tvs while tearing through 19 turnovers (cleaning rooms). I so remember doing that!

 

* It was interesting to read that statistically, Minnesota seems to be kinder to the impoverished / those on welfare than many other states in the nation. 

 

* I also didn't realize that Walmart was the largest retailer in the WORLD and the largest private employer in the US! 

 

* Her thoughts during the Walmart job were especially thought-provoking, the experiences that should have us collectively saying "why are we doing this to ourselves?! why are we allowing others to suck our lives away like this?!"

 

What bugged me:

 

In short, the constant contradictions!

 

* In the last chapter of the book, she seems to knock the presence of modern day unions in the workforce -- "such fiends as these union organizers, such outright extortionists, are allowed to roam free in the land" --  yet in the first chapter of the book she throws out that her own husband is "an organizer for Teamsters".

 

* Outwardly, she seems strongly fixated on race but really doesn't go out of her way to actually get much perspective from any minority communities. And then admitting that she chose Maine as one of her locations for the projects because of "its whiteness." WHAAA?! And intentionally avoiding NYC and LA? Okay, just listen to this: "I ruled out places like NY and LA, for example, where the working class consists mainly of people of color and a white woman with unaccented English seeking entry-level jobs might only look desperate or weird." For having a PhD and bringing up her intelligence as much as possible, I can't help but feel the point was missed on our author.

 

I, myself, am a college-educated white woman who speaks "unaccented English" (unless you count my slight Cali-Carolina tinge to my everyday speech) who has worked and lived in more than one ethnic neighborhood in my day. I have, at various times in my life, applied for these jobs that I guess, in her eyes, would make me look "desperate"... because I was! I had bills to pay and ego doesn't get you anywhere when you're looking down the barrel of near-homelessness. That's what it means to live every day in the class she is supposedly investigating. I feel like it would have brought a lot of staggering reality to the work to illustrate just how real the struggle is even in some of the most expensive cities in our country! One of her own statistics she rolls out proves my point: Across the nation, 67% of requests at food banks are from people with steady jobs (but just too-low income)!

 

* While some of what she discovers is interesting, I'm not sure why I understand the sky-high praise I've heard for this book over the years. Not only that, but it also reads a bit dated. I was a little confused at the sudden time warp when I read passages where she talks about getting off a shift, going home and crashing in front of episodes of Titus, 3rd Rock, or "the new sensation Survivor on CBS." Then I recalled that there was a line at the beginning of the book that mentions this project was first started in 1998, with the book itself being published in 2001. 

 

* I feel like she was a little dramatic regarding the laws about drug-testing for employment. Seems like her reasoning was reaching just a bit. Just go in the dang cup, it's not that big a deal. 

 

*She makes some fair points on democracy vs the sort of dictatorship environment of many workplaces, but this whole "I've never personally come across a slacker, thief or drug addict, so I argue their existence" idea near the end... can she really be that far under a rock? And I call BS that she's worked all these jobs and never met anyone that, at the very least, wasn't pulling their weight. So no, I can't agree that all these rules about "time theft", drug testing, etc are just "the man keepin' us down" and all that. 

 

For those interested in the exact breakdown of Ehrenreich's expenditures during this project, she has a whole closing chapter entitled "Evaluation" where she reveals just how much everything cost in each location. All in all, I closed this book with more than a little disappointment. She was on the road to something impressive a number of times but kept veering off back onto #FirstWorldProblems terrain of the privileged. Yes, she mentions coming from blue collar roots herself but I don't care what she writes here, there's plenty in her tone to tell me she gladly left that history in the dust once she achieved the cush life. This book's another for the list of had potential, had moments that momentarily delivered but largely missed the mark. It ends up feeling like she piggy-backed off the hardships of the lower classes to write a book and make more bank to make her already comfy life that much more plush. 

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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! 

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