Book Corner 2019.42

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Dopesick by Beth Macy

This was a really hard book to get through. There was no narrative arc – even a work of nonfiction should have narrative; but this was just one bad thing after another. I chalked up seeming non-sequiturs to my lack of ability to focus; but by the end I was spotting them for sure. For example, on page 264 there’s a paragraph about how “Female user-dealers are incentivized to lie in their quest for what the government calls substantial assistance,” which comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere. The chapter isn’t about females, it’s about Ronnie Jones.

There are no happy endings here. I get that that’s reality. There’s no cure for addiction, just struggling every day to avoid the likely relapse. The closest we get to any hopeful notes in the book are the nods to medically assisted treatment, or MAT, as the best evidence-based route available to clean and sober living. So OK – couldn’t we read a story about someone holding down a job and family with the help of MAT? Just one little success story, one thread of hope, could make the difference in a reader coming away inspired to act to be supportive of addicts and MAT in their communities, vs. finishing the book horrified and hopeless. ( )

Postscript: Last night my book club met and covered this.  It was the most emotional book club meeting I’ve ever experienced in 20-odd years as a member.  One of our members recently lost her son to opioid addiction.  During the meeting she told his harrowing story.

I’m the club coordinator, and as such I’m the one who digs up possible titles and suggests them to the group.  I had been second-guessing myself for even putting this one out there, in light of the bit I had known about this woman’s experience.  But she had been the first one to vote we do it.  She said it was certainly a painful read for her, and it obviously wasn’t easy to tell the story she did; but her goal in having us discuss it was to help remove the stigma surrounding addiction, to hopefully change people’s way of thinking.

Mission accomplished.  I don’t think I’ll ever look at addiction the same way again.  This is a disease.  It alters the brain.  It needs to be medicated.  Unfortunately it’s an extremely long-term, sometimes lifelong disease.  A little bit of 12-stepping isn’t a cure.

 

Book Corner 2019.41

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Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker by Kathleen Hale

I was intending to read only free samples on my Kindle all night, and not buy a thing – but this sample left me in the middle of the first essay with such a cliffhanger, there was no way I could leave it. So I actually bought this thing and read the whole thing, and ended up grateful it was only six essays.

The first one is about how the author couldn’t stop obsessing over this possibly-fake person who has given her a bad review on Goodreads. Apparently there is a world of book bloggers on Goodreads and elsewhere in the blogosphere who can make or break a book, and get very personal about it; and there is a world of people out there who cannot simply shut down their dang computer before things get wacky (that I knew).

NONE OF IT IS REAL, PEOPLE, I want to say – go step outside and breathe the fresh air!

So the next essay was about the author’s molestation in a shady massage parlor when she was a college freshman; and the jury trial she participated in to keep the man behind bars. This was gripping and sad. But she kept dropping one-sentence paragraphs of foreboding that didn’t end up leading much of anywhere.

Then there was a strange one about hunting and killing a feral hog I didn’t understand or enjoy. Then one about attending a Miss America pageant, which I enjoyed more; then a couple more wacky ones, including one about searching for a mountain lion, to end the mini-book.

I am usually really into the personal woman’s essay, but I don’t relate much to Hale and her weird dangerous wild animal obsessions. ( )

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Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin

I love Joel Salatin. He is a crazy libertarian organic farmer in Virginia. I have his EVERYTHING I WANT TO DO IS ILLEGAL; and I’ve read his YOU CAN FARM. The latter is his attempt to inspire and instruct young people considering embarking on a life of farming. I loved it, even though there is no way I am ever going to become a farmer.

Here, Salatin rants about how far we have gotten away from “normal” (hence the title) with our industrial food system. He ends each chapter with positive suggestions, some more realistic than others, for taking individual action to end the insanity and start doing something normal again – growing a tomato plant, keeping chickens as pets, etc.

This totally resonated with me. The crazy thing I’ve always thought about books along the lines of “My Year of Growing All My Own Food” and such, is that they treat what used to be normal as a miracle – indeed, case in point, the title of Barbara Kingsolver’s ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE. What we think is fodder for an entire book used to just be LIFE. Of course your grew your own food. People of 200 years ago would be might puzzled that anyone would want to read or write a book about it.

It’s NORMAL. Salatin uses the word “birthright” in this book; it was actually in reference to hunting, but I like to think of it in relation to the whole shebang of agriculture and enjoying nature. It’s our BIRTHRIGHT.

The book is repetitive and ranty, not exactly a masterpiece of literature, but it has been so inspiring to me, I go with 5 stars. I’m inspired to actually double down on my local food intake. I’m researching local grain and upgrading my dairy; I’m using more butter in place of vegetable oils (big sacrifice there, not); just putting a lot more thought into it. And I wasn’t exactly unconscious to begin with.

Salatin even ends the book by confiding in us an experience where he actually broke down in tears as he was about to leave his homestead for a month or two, a very long stretch of traveling for him. He had to stop the car and cry before he had even left the lane leading to his house. I’m touched, I really am.

And although I no longer identify as libertarian – and was not interested in the rants against the government which at times lurked just below surface, and at other times reared their ugly heads – I have to say simply that there’s something refreshing in reading arguments for organic, back-to-the-land living coming from a place other than basic hippie liberal. It’s just different and enlightening and proves that these things don’t have to be “polarized.” Everyone benefits from better food. It’s ridiculous that this should be a politically one-sided issue – like climate change. ( )

Book Corner 2019.39

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Corvus: A Life with Birds

I couldn’t get past the dense, distant writing style. Esther Woolfson begins her “Life with Birds” when she comes by some doves… I think they came with the property when she moved in. From there, she gains a parrot or two, then begins collecting a stray, abandoned baby bird here and there, until ultimately she earns some recognition as a kind of Bird Lady who will take in any distressed baby bird in need of a home.
The book discusses the rats, doves, and parrots who pass through her life, but ultimately spends the most time on the corvids – particularly a rook, whom she calls “Chicken”, who lived closely with her for many years; and a magpie christened “Spike.”

Somehow, despite her voluminously worded attempts, she just never managed to explain to me the appeal of these pets. I get that she sensed an intelligence on a level comparable if not exactly equal to her own when she looked into those corvid eyes. I get the interest. I just never feel the attachment. I think that sums it up best.

And frankly, her many, many off-the-cuff “oh just Chicken being Chicken” descriptions of the corvid habit of “cacheing” – i.e. hiding things – including such delectable things as bits of ground meat, pieces of seafood – and her finding these lovely gifts in the fold of her pants leg or under the rug untold amounts of time later – yeah, that didn’t really hit home the appeal of birds to me, either.

The only aspect of the book that really kept me reading was totally unrelated to anything avian – Woolfson dwells in Aberdeen, Scotland, and her descriptions of place were very enjoyable to me. ( )

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Still Life by Louise Penny

(Book Club selection)

Like science fiction, murder mysteries are a genre I rarely if ever read; so when I do, the novelty is very pleasant and I find myself thinking, “Why, this is so clever!” But the important thing for me is that the “genre-ness” not interfere with it being a well-written story. STILL LIFE is only occasionally cheesy; the gay characters were a little over-exaggerated, for example. I really wanted to get back to it every night, though; and no, I never did guess “whodunit.” ( )

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Rose Wilder Lane: Her Story by Roger Lea MacBride

This is a “perfectly genuine fictional autobiography.” It was written not by Rose Wilder Lane, but by her protégée Roger Lea MacBride. It covers the period of Rose’s life beginning with her leaving Mansfield, Missouri for the west coast; through her stint as a telegraph operator; and her marriage to and divorce from Gillette Lane. Altogether it covers at least three years. It is factual that Rose did work as a telegraph operator in California, and that she married and divorced Lane. I am not sure anything else in the plot is true.

In particular, the figure of Paul Masters looms large – Paul is the boy who traveled south with his family in a wagon from Dakota to Missouri, along with the Wilders, when Rose and Paul were wee children. I am not sure that he grew up to be a genuine love interest of Rose at all; here they are informally engaged, indulging in passionate lovemaking several times. Paul appears constantly in her life out in California – I am not sure it is at all true, either, that he ever went West.

But what can I say – it’s a gripping yarn! I hardly wanted to put it down. MacBride writes a great little story… perhaps there is enough of Rose’s actual material here too, shining through enough to enamor me.

Oh, the cover has got to go, though – its illustration shows a behatted Rose and is obviously based on a famous photo of her, but in the background is a Conestoga wagon traversing an empty prairie. The Wilders were traveling in this style some 10 years or more before the book ever takes place. There are no prairies or covered wagons in the story. This isn’t LITTLE HOUSE, Garth Williams – or Garth Williams wanna-be, can’t tell. ( )

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In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo

I love juicy biographies, and this was 29 delicious bit-size pieces! They run the gamut; Karbo tries to show them all as being “difficult” in one way or another. Difficult, whatever – they were all interesting and awesome. And I learned things.

Josephine Baker – how did I know next to nothing about this woman? What an amazing life!

Rachel Maddow – OK I shouldn’t admit that I didn’t know Rachel Maddow was gay, but I need to express the weird disappointment I felt at learning that. I always admired how she rocked short hair and glasses. I thought she was a really cool straight woman who rocked short hair and glasses. But she’s lesbian. So the look kind of goes with the territory. I’m sure this should be embarrassing for me not only because of my ignorance but because it surely comes off as not very homo-friendly of me, but I don’t mean anything bad by it!

Eva Peron – I didn’t know much about her either. It was worth having an earworm in my head all of the next day to read about her.

Vita Sackville-West – another learning experience.

Janis Joplin – OK, nothing new for me to learn in that department! Just always fun to read anything about her.

I could go on. Couldn’t wait to get back to this book every night. ( )