An elegy for a culture that’s killing itself

hillbilly.jpgI read J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” about a month ago, and still don’t know what to think about it.

Looking at it one way, the book is an engrossing first-hand story about the life of the rural poor—particularly those in Appalachia—and how one man got out, into the Marines, Ohio State University and into Yale Law School. Now, though Vance’s website says he’s a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm, he is better known as a talking head on cable news channels.

But “Elegy” is also a loving sepia-toned remembrance of a life that no one in America should be living and the people who live it.

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Words on words: Two odd little books I kind of think I liked

The greatest thing about being curious is that you explore things many others would dismiss out of hand. That is also the worst thing about being curious.

That’s how I came across two recent books that were intriguing, touching and, I think, ultimately rewarding. I must confess, though, I’m not sure that I completely liked either of them.

Continue reading “Words on words: Two odd little books I kind of think I liked”

A son finds himself in hunting down his father’s secret

friends.jpgIn 1970 when his father died, Michael Hainey was six years old and too young to ask questions.

His father, Bob, 35, had dropped dead of an apparent heart attack on the street on the way home from his night shift at the Chicago Sun-Times where he was the night slot on the copy desk. He left behind a wife, Barbara, Michael and his older brother, and a secret.

It wasn’t until many years later, still feeling a loss he couldn’t explain, that Michael began looking into his father’s sudden death and didn’t like what he found. He writes his story in a sometimes moving, sometimes frustrating but straight-up honest memoir, “After Visiting Friends.”

Continue reading “A son finds himself in hunting down his father’s secret”

SPOILER: An amazing tale of survival

 

438.jpgSome stories are too astonishing to be true, and that’s the case with “438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival At Sea” by Jonathan Franklin.

How do you get so many spoilers in one title? But that’s OK, because you might be familiar with the story. Not too long ago, Salvador Alvarenga was an international sensation, and his face and story, if not his name, were known around the world.

Alvarenga is the shark fisherman who survived 14 months  on his fishing boat, drifting from the coast of Mexico to the Marshall Islands north and east of Australia. That’s more than 5,500 miles, and he did it mostly alone. That he survived at all is amazing, but that he survived with a brain that hadn’t turned to mush is a miracle. That’s why his story was doubted by so many people when he found land. Franklin, a journalist for the Guardian newspaper, spent months researching the story and came away convinced of its veracity. That’s why he wrote this book.

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‘Salt Sugar Fat’ will make you rethink what you put in your mouth

As someone who can’t eat dairy—one test, years ago indicated I wasn’t lactose intolerant and not allergic to milk, yet my body can tolerate only a token amount before I have to race to the bathroom—I actually get angry when I go out to eat.

salt sugar fatMy wife and I scrounge up the cash, choose a restaurant and feed the kids, only to end up challenged by a menu on which most items have cheese or dairy as a key ingredient. “Why do they have to bury everything under cheese?” I whine to my long-suffering wife. She’s sympathetic, but she’s also heard it all before: “Why do people need cheese stuffed into their pizza crust?” I shout at the television. “Can the average Pizza Hut customer discern the delicate interplay of the five carefully selected cheeses on their revolting-looking Five-Cheese Pizza?” I ask in response to a radio commercial. “The Pioneer Woman put an entire brick of cream cheese into her freaking mashed potatoes!” I tell my children at the dinner table to let them know the horrors that face them when they leave the loving bosom of home. Continue reading “‘Salt Sugar Fat’ will make you rethink what you put in your mouth”

A great story is all in the telling

I love against-all-odds stories. The best ones awaken in me a pride in the little guy, the person who didn’t know he had a passion for life until it is nearly stolen from him. They also provide me with something to ponder: What would I have done in the same situation.

The thriller genre is chock full of lowly-but-honest people who take on impossible battles. Those stories are good for what they are, but because they’re fiction I find myself at arms length when deciding whether to care. Continue reading “A great story is all in the telling”