Reading for me is like breathing, a daily and hourly routine; I read voraciously. I know, big word alert, right? I love learning new words, using new words, learning new subjects, and learning new things about areas already of interest to me. And fiction, fiction, take me away, vacation from my own mind today. Then there’s poetry, oh, the creative minds of writers. Pictures painted with words.
In the summer, I like “fluffy” fiction, something I can pick up and put down at will, and the last few years I’ve been reading one classic every winter because of the early evenings.
I am a little fussy about what I read though I read widely across many genres and disciplines. Writing has to be cohesive, a good story, and though I’m not a fact checker – hwell, not too compulsively anyway – the material has to be enough right for me to suspend my disbelief. If you are writing non-fiction and you mess up a fact I can catch, I find it hard to credit the rest of your story. I like my non-fiction written in plain language, even better if the author is engaging, though I will take the time to sift though scientific language if I have to when I want a real answer. If you are writing fiction and you don’t keep your characters straight or use a recognizable event or place and get it wrong, I won’t read you again.
For any publication I allow two typos, editing errors, writing errors, or bits of absolute garbage-ridiculous-you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me-you-published-this-crap. A couple typos and editing errors might slip by skilled eyes. More than that? What the eff are they paying you for as a professional book publisher, editor, copy editor, writer for. OOOh. Cranky.
Recently I completed a few books. The label for my reading style eludes me. I read three or four books concurrently. I have a throne room book, non-fiction, ready for seated reading pleasure in the little private room. This one is a slow read because I prefer to be on and gone. Next is my morning/breakfast book, this is the one I wake up with and digest with breakfast. The noon/break read is the book kept at work for lunchtime and breaks. And my sleepytime read before bed is usually fiction, poetry, or a cookbook.
As much as I dislike the word “hate” I dislike politics even more. Unfortunately if one is a contributing member of society one becomes “political” by default. I was once reprimanded by a university professor who found out I hadn’t read the day’s newspaper. Little did he know it had been weeks since I’d read anything other than homework. I was going to school full time achieving a 3.9 GPA, which is essentially a forty to sixty hour week when you achieve at that level, working a twenty hour week at the university bookstore, caring for a disabled husband, raising an eight-year-old son, volunteering with cub scouts, and trying to keep myself well without any financial assistance other than school scholarships, grants, and my part-time job. I didn’t have time to keep current with today’s events when I was my own event. I looked the professor straight in the eye and said, “You have a wife, right?” He agreed. “Different game, then,” I said as pointedly as I could, but he didn’t get it. I don’t bother to explain myself unless I think the person really cares and there are few enough of those.
I’ve always admired Tavis Smiley, enjoying his PBS show when I came across it on TV. I don’t sit in front of the tube much. I might have it on for background noise, turned down low, but I’m reading or writing. When I want to sit and watch something I plug in a DVD or (gasp) VHS movie or TV series. I cannot abide watching TV shows on TV; the commercials absolutely drive me out of my mind. I’m always a season behind because I’d rather wait until the series comes out on disc or Netflix.
Smiley is an intelligent and patient interviewer who does his homework before he greets his guests. He handles controversial material competently albeit with a “Black” bias. I mean, how could he not? In the text, he always capitalized the word “Black” referring to race, but not when he used the word “white” referring to race and I found this an interesting choice for racial differentiation. The culturally contrived difference of race is upon us all everyday and people of color routinely get the receiving nasty end regardless of their integrity. But bias is bias, whatever direction is comes from and I do not have solutions to recommend in this essay, perhaps another.
His book, The Rich and The Rest of Us, was a fascinating review of a “poverty tour” he took with Cornel West, another writer and academic. They traveled to several cities in the United States talking to people who had lost jobs, homes, and hope, and gathered stories of hopelessness and hopefulness from citizens who feel abandoned by their elected government and their society. None of the people interviewed were asking for a handout; they just needed homes and work to get on with their lives. I wrote down so many pages I wanted to copy I must find a way to own this book. Smiley has earned a life of relative comfort after years of working his way out of his own family’s poverty. He speaks in plain language and describes the grinding poverty appallingly experienced by millions – millions!!! – of Americans today. I was impressed and pleased he placed the “working poor” in the poverty category. There is something terribly wrong when it takes two salaries to barely make ends meet or when the queen has to run faster all the time to go backwards. We’re not even staying in the same place like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass.
5 STARZ: Read The Rich and the Rest of Us. It’s worth your time. Powerful, hit you between the eyes political, non-fiction.
Smiley refers to the work of Barbara Ehrenreich in several places throughout The Rich and the Rest of Us. I’d read her book Nickel and Dimed, her experiment with getting a minimum wage job and living on the money she made from said job/s. I had some objections to her story, both her approach, and her reporting. Ehrenreich is a highly skilled journalist and investigative reporter who assumes an alternative persona to experience lifestyles different from her own. I dreaded reading Bait and Switch but because of Smiley’s reference I decided to read her exploration into getting an administrative job. Maybe I’m not an Ehrenreich fan but I don’t care for her story style; she’s a little facetious and I know she’s trying to be funny or amusing, but from my point of view she comes off as snarky and condescending. She comes from a position of privilege as being excellently educated and a highly paid journalist. In Bait and Switch, she say as much when she admits her life has always gone her way; she’s generally gotten what she asked for and has rarely experienced rejection or failure. It shows in her writing.
Ehrenreich spends the entire book seeking employment by way of trainings, seminars, life coaches, and networking events. She probably gives an accurate view of how painful that is, including the financial impact at a time when the budget would be tighter; I admit I do not work at a corporate or administrative level. Spoiler alert: she never gets an administrative job interview let alone the job. The final chapter she finally shares some of her frustration. As with Nickel and Dimed, she does not manage to convey the awful desperation when one has no cushion, no money in the bank or to spend on a new outfit for work, no comfy townhouse waiting for when the experiment is over, or the constant self-doubt that shadows rejection after rejection.
I think she is sympathetic and understanding of the plight of minimum wage workers and the isolation of displaced administrative workers, certainly why Smiley referred to her work, but she does not sufficiently express the daily hopelessness of being unemployed or underemployed. How could she? She’s never really been there; she’s always had a cushion to fall back on. And sad to say I had to give her a Fact Error Award, on a company I’ve been involved with for twenty years. You have to take the time to check facts. Or your editor or copy editor checks your facts.
1 STARZ: Meh. Read this book if you like snarky style. I never figured out how the title related to the body of the work either.
On an entirely different note Susan Cain’s: Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was quite refreshing. I haven’t read any psychology recently and this was the perfect book. I finally identified myself as an introvert. I never knew for sure, and being a Libra and generally unbalanced anyway, I could go both ways. But Cain’s definitions of introversion fit what I consider my core being to be. I’ve had to learn to be outgoing; extroversion is unnatural for me. I have a type B personality forced to live a mostly type A life. Aging is nice; physically I just can’t do as much any more despite my best efforts, so I have to slow down some and pace myself just to stay healthy.
Cain gives the reader some history of the labeling of introverts and extroverts and an overview of “personality” tests. She investigates home and office dynamics for the two types, how they mix, and don’t. I enjoyed her exploration into creativity and private spaces and how modern corporations are really not as conducive to creative production as they could be or think they are.
4 STARZ: Read this book. You won’t regret it. Well written, nice flow from chapter to chapter.
Finally, The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Bains . I love cookbooks even when they are wrong. I read them like novels. Most cookbook writers can’t resist adding tidbits of their own personal kitchen lore and this satisfies my secret voyeur. I love learning cooking tips and cooking with fresh local foods. I especially appreciate historical references or historically accurate recipes. And if the color pictures are excellent I can just go straight to book heaven. Picture book, food, and words all in one place? Ooh, la, la.
Not one single picture graced this cookbook. You have to rely on your memory of the work of Mrs. Patmore in the series, which was so great I’m tempted to watch it again just to slow-mo through the kitchen and dining room scenes. The first two times around I tried to watch for equipment and tools and it was so much fun to see the techniques of creating healthful gourmet food without electricity or running water. I don’t remember many of the dining presentations. Perfect excuse to watch the series again.
The recipes included by the author, however, did not strike me as historically accurate. (Buy puff pastry? As if they could just send Daisy off to the grocery store?) And the recipe for cucumber sandwiches clearly calls for chopped cucumber in the ingredients list, but nowhere in the recipe does one add the cucumbers to the sandwich mix. Quel domage! Major faux pas.
1 STARZ: No pictures. Don’t trust the recipes. Read this book in one hour tops for the repetitive tidbits.
And so there it is, my personal sassy cranky curmudgeonly fine opinion on the last four I’ve read. Four seems like a nice round number. From me to you, two times too.