Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

920x920Book–Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond immersed himself in the lives of 8 poverty-stricken Milwaukee families and constructed this book out of hours of recorded conversations. His account takes place in both a mostly white run-down trailer park and in a mostly black set of tenements; he also spoke to the two landlords that own these properties. Desmond argues that there is one common thread that destabilizes the lives of all the people he spoke to: eviction. The old well-known advice says that one should spend no more than 1/3 of one’s income on housing. However, when subsisting on government benefits and food stamps, one has no choice but to drop 80%+ of one’s meager income on housing, and, as Desmond puts it, “if you’re spending 80 percent of your income on rent, eviction is much more of an inevitability than an irresponsibility.”

For the most part, this book is a litany of sad stories, depressing outcomes, poor choices, and petty injustices. I found it to be somewhat repetitive after a while. However, the repetitiveness proves Desmond’s point. Even when these families get a lucky break, be a it a tax refund, benefits coming through, or a win at gambling, the precariousness of their situation and their predatory landlords keep them locked in a cycle of poverty where they owe their landlord more than they can pay, until they are evicted and need to start their Sisyphean journey toward stability in a new, often more squalid, place. If Evicted caught your attention, I would also recommend White Trash by Nancy Isenberg and Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

The Intern (2015)

8756Movie – In The Intern, Jules Osten (Anne Hathaway) is the CEO of About the Fit, a new women’s clothing site. She at taken the site from her kitchen table to a company of over 200 employees in over a year.  Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is her new intern. He is a 70-year old widower who was looking to do more in his old age than sit around.

Ben is old school. He is a gentleman, loyal, and quiet person. His co-workers and fellow interns enjoy this about him. He somehow becomes the cool uncle type. Ben gives dating, attire, and living advice to some of the man-children that work at About the Fit. Ben even lets one of them move in while he finds an apartment. Cool uncle stuff!

The only one who is not to fond of Ben is Jules. It is never really addressed why Jules does not like Ben and I felt had no bearing in the film. It was an issue at one point, and then it wasn’t.  This took away from the story a bit. Jules is overworked and her marriage is becoming strained. Her job has taken a toll on her husband. Without saying too much, things happen in the marriage but then there okay. Kind of like the whole Jules not liking Ben thing. The movie is good but leaves you with a feeling of not having finished things.

If you want to see De Niro in a wholesome comedy this one is okay. There is a scene where the guys all work together to help out Jules that is pretty good. Overall it’s an okay film.

Shameless: Season 1 (2011)

indexTV Series – Just as the name says, this show is Shameless. A story about a family that does everything they need to make ends meet. A father with a drinking problem and no job, six siblings ranging from mid-twenties to under a year, and neighbors and friends that do their best to help where and when they can.

The shows centers around the Gallaghers, a dysfunctional family with a lot of problems and a lot of heart.  Frank (William H Macy) is an alcoholic determined never to work a day in his life. Ironic that he works so hard at trying not to work. Fiona (Emmy Rossum) keeps the family in line and afloat doing everything she can to make sure the bills get paid and there is food on the table. Lip and Ian are the next in line trying to stay in school and help out where they can. The younger branch of the family is Debbie, Carl and little Liam. They also do their part to help out with family responsibilities.

Shameless is very raw and depicts a lot of hard/ harsh situations. Though a comedy, Shameless has a lot of everyday drama. Using a chair to keep the washing machine door from opening because there is no money to buy a new one. Taking every odd job out their just to put food on the table. Sending your sister to school with her baby brother for show and tell because there is no babysitter and everyone has things to do. This is what I mean by every day drama. It may not be the drama you’re used to, but this is the reality for some. The Gallaghers struggle, but work together to get things done and compromise at every turn to make sure they survive to fight another day.

There is a lot of swearing, nudity, alcohol, and drug abuse. If this is not your thing, I would steer away from this one. But for people who can relate to harsh family upbringings, family resilience, and not take yourself to serious then I would check this out. The show takes place on the south side of Chicago. Shameless is ending its seventh season this December.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

boy-in-the-black-suit-9781442459502_lgBook–Matt’s world collapsed the day his mother lost her battle with cancer. And now he is losing his father to the bottle. Nothing is the same anymore. He suddenly feels older than all of his friends and nobody seems to understand what he is going through. When Mr. Ray offers him a job working with him at the funeral home, Matt’s first reaction is to say no. He really did not want to be surrounded by death, it would just remind him of what he lost.

But when Matt realizes that he has two options: work at the Cluck Bucket or work for Mr. Ray, he takes Mr. Ray’s offer. And he is surprised at how cathartic it was to watch another person struggle with their pain. Now, Matt cannot wait for another funeral. He even wears his black suit everyday so he is prepared for work. Then he meets Lovey, who has also dealt with pain and loss, and he begins to realize that maybe he is not actually alone in the world.

The Boy in the Black Suit is a great book about dealing with the loss of a loved one and learning to overcome your trials. It is beautifully written with diverse and funny characters. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading realistic fiction.

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

indexBook–  Daisy is crushed when, on the anniversary of three years free of cancer, she receives a surprise stage four diagnosis, with a life expectancy of 4 months. This is especially galling for Daisy because she did everything ‘right’– ate healthy, cancer-fighting foods, got all of her scheduled follow-ups, and exercised regularly. Rather than dwelling on her own mortality, Daisy is worried about her husband Jack. Jack is a brilliant airhead who relies on Daisy to take care of him.

Oakley does a great job at characterizing both Jack and Daisy:  we get a clear picture of Daisy the type A, detail-oriented organizer and list-maker and her partnership with Jack, the big-picture, charming, dreamer type. Daisy comes to the conclusion that she should spend her last few months finding Jack a new wife/caretaker. With the help of her best friend, she frequents dog parks and coffee shops looking for her replacement, even making a dating website profile for Jack. However, once one of the prospects she’s scouted for seems to be getting too close to Jack for Daisy’s liking, and she begins to re-evaluate how she’s planned to spend the final months of her life.

This book has a definite downer ending, but that’s what you expect reading a book about terminal cancer. I especially liked that, even while near death, Oakley did not make Daisy become a  caricature of the brave cancer patient:  she retained her personality, flaws and all. This is the author’s first novel, and it will be interesting to see what she writes next.

 

The Babadook (2014)

babadookMovie- Young widow Amelia has struggled to raise her difficult 6-year-old son Sam alone since her husband died the day Sam was born. Sam is a very stressed out (and stressful) kid–he brings homemade weapons to school, fears imaginary monsters, acts out constantly, and generally runs roughshod over the listless, colorless Amelia. Things intensify, though, when Amelia reads him a bedtime story from a creepy storybook that has appeared on his shelf, Mister Babadook. Both Amelia and Sam are disturbed by the monster in the story, who Sam quickly becomes convinced is stalking them. The presence of the Babadook becomes slowly more pervasive throughout the movie until it finally takes over.

I was particularly struck by how quickly one’s perceptions of the characters change. I was initially annoyed by Sam but by the end of the movie felt quite protective towards him. The settings in the movie are excellent as well:  they are claustrophobic and oppressive, especially inside Amelia and Sam’s house. The Babadook will appeal to people who typically aren’t fans of horror movies. It is mercifully short on scare chords, cheap made-you-jumps, and gore, but still plenty terrifying on a psychological level and full of suspense.

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

51Jz8l7pWXLBook – About Joy Bergman: “Oh, they broke the mold when they made that one. People who loved her said it, people who did not love her said it, too, for the same reason.” I fall into the former category. Joy is in her eighties and caring for her beloved husband Aaron, who has dementia along with other serious health issues. They are New Yorkers and Joy misses their daughter, Molly, who is living in California with her wife. Their son, Daniel, still lives close by, with his wife and their two young daughters. This story is about family and the ties that bind us during good times and bad. It highlights the issues we are forced to confront as we age, both from the perspective of the parents and their children. Schine, who also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport, explores these themes as she relates and finds humor in the most ordinary conundrums and routines. Joy laments about her physical deterioration, defends her take-out order meals and is determined to remain independent and upbeat. Molly feels guilty about living far away and she and Daniel search for ways (with sometimes hilarious results) to reassure Joy about her importance in their lives. Joy enjoys a special bond with her grandchildren and acknowledges that although she loves being in the midst of her family, she also finds them exhausting. This book reminded me that despite the differences in our individual circumstances, there is a shared commonality in our experiences as we face life’s transitions.

Summertime Nostalgia

Movies – Summertime brings back memories baseball, adventures, mischief, and family vacations. It’s a time for wondering the woods, going to water parks, hanging out with friends, and first loves/crushes. Here are some movies to help get that nostalgia feeling back.

5166BKF2PFLMy number one favorite summertime film is The Sandlot. A group of neighborhood kids playing baseball all day long, or until they lose the ball for that day. These kids didn’t have a care in the world accept playing baseball, being kids, and enjoying summer. That is until they hit a special ball into the yard of “the beast”. They will do everything they can to get it back. “You’re killing me smalls!”

51Q041CWDEL._SY445_Next classic is Stand by Me. Four boys go off on an adventure to locate a dead body. Not very summery of a topic, but it is an adventure. This is what kids do… to some point. They go off in search of adventures and end up discovering things about themselves and their friends. What better time in one’s life to go on adventures! As a kid we would go down to our local train tracks and look for tadpoles and snails. Stand by Me is a classic which will always remind me of precarious summertime adventure.

794043492624;size=m2Now and Then is a story about four girls and the summer that brought them closer. The movie opens in a cemetery with the girls trying to summon a spirit. The girls are also trying to raise money to buy a tree house. The films flashbacks between the girls as adults and teens. It is a great film for everyone. Personally, I never tried to summon a spirit via a cemetery because there were no cemeteries nearby, but it sounds like something my friends and I would have done.

Summer is a great time for everyone to learn, live, laugh, and love. I recommend watching some on these movies before summers end and reliving your summertime memories with your loved ones.

Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

indexBook – Arthur lost his wife, Miriam, a year ago and copes with his grief by clinging to his old routines. He takes tea at the same time every day, wears the same stiff collared shirts and uncomfortable pants and waters his fern, Frederica. He hides from the food-laden visits of his neighbor, Bernadette, and has infrequent contact with his two adult children, Lucy and Dan. But, when Arthur decides to clean out Miriam’s closet, he finds a charm bracelet that he’s never seen before. As he examines it, he impulsively dials a phone number engraved on one of the charms and is launched on a journey to learn the truth about his wife. Along the way, he learns truths about himself and his relationships. He discovers new friends and learns about their hardships and joys. This book is a cozy tale about life’s surprising twists and savoring what is in the present.

Caution: may cause hunger pains (Part I)

Movies – I enjoy a good film about cooking, food adventures, and or anything that features cooking. Food and movies go hand in hand. Here are couple of films without fail always make me hungry.

onesheetThe first one always makes me crave brie with pears, and fried egg sandwiches with a good beer. Spanglish, star Adam Sandler as a chef of a small restaurant. The movie is about boundaries and relationships, where they should start and end. Cultural and family dynamic differences are the major cause of drama in the movie. But it’s his fried egg sandwich that gets me every time.

chefNext on the list is Chef. It stars Jon Favreau as a chef who loses it after a bad review and his rant goes viral causing him to rethink his career and family responsibilities. This sends him from LA to Miami with his ex-wife and son, and into a new venture, the food truck business. While driving the truck back to LA, various stops are made and include beignets from New Orleans and brisket from Austin.  Brisket looks amazing and this film makes me want tostones (pressed fried plantains with garlic sauce) and yuca with garlic and vinegar! Mmm!!!

91XUvt3NWxL._SL1500_Tortilla Soup stars Hector Elizondo as a chef and father of three women. Hector has lost his taste and needs others to taste the food as he preps. The food shots of the films are gorgeous and tempting. His red snapper and nopales (cactus) make me crave breakfast by the ocean in Puerto Vallarta, MX. It also reminds me of my aunt in Mexico making fresh flour tortillas and huevos con chorizo (eggs and sausage). It always takes me back to when I was a kid!

chocolatFor dessert I give you Chocolat starring Juliette Binoche. A movie about a wandering women and her young daughter who come to a small French village to open up a chocolate shop on the eve of lent. Her hot chocolate drink is rich and thick the way it is traditional made in Spain. She uses her chocolate to change the lives of the citizens of this small village. It is only right for them to change hers as well. She also makes a chocolate with a kick from chili peppers. It’s a good thing I know a place that sells chocolate jalapeno ice cream. Hope I didn’t make you too hungry.