Book–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
Book–This skewering of the adventure genre follows Constance Verity, an adventurer since childhood who was blessed (or cursed, if you ask Constance) by a fairy godmother at birth to live an exciting life full of adventure and die a glorious death. Similar to how Poirot stumbles on murder mysteries even while on vacation, Constance’s life is never far from adventure. Her job interviewer turns out to be a member of a strange cult, her biology teacher is part of a vast conspiracy, and since adventure is par for the course of her life, Constance is perpetually exhausted, trusts no one, and suspects everyone of hidden motives. When your whole life is adrenaline and excitement, monotony and ordinariness become sacred. In a quest for an ordinary life, Constance and her best friend Tia set off, ironically, on an adventure, with the goal of murdering her fairy godmother and thus hopefully shedding her blessing/curse.
Part of the fun of this book is all of the crazy adventures that Tia and Constance refer to in their dialog and the loving way that Martinez sends up the classics of adventure. This book is the start of a series, so it’s probably actually NOT the “last adventure” of Constance Verity.
Book–Andi Zeisler, co-founder of feminist nonprofit Bitch Media, has spent her career examining popular culture through a feminist lens. Zeisler argues that lately feminist has become a coveted ‘cool’ label. In contrast to the 1980s retrenchment of conservative values that repudiated feminism, now it’s a label that everyone wants to claim. Popular celebrities regularly affirm that they are feminist, brands like Dove are embracing body positivity as a marketing technique, and even innocuous products like underwear are being marketed using empowerment jargon. According to Zeisler, if everything is suddenly feminist, than it’s as if nothing is feminist. Using feminism to categorize everything from pop music to sanitary pads dilutes the meaning of the word and sidesteps the systemic inequalites that feminism should rightly address. Because people face an unequal range of opportunities, feminism is not as simple as people just making the choices they would have made anyway then calling themselves feminist for it. Zeisler calls this “Marketplace Feminism,” though others have called it choice feminism.
While I did enjoy this book, I thought it suffered from too many examples and observations and not enough solutions and conclusions. Any reader who frequents the feminist blogosphere will be more than familiar with most of the examples that Zeisler uses to illustrate her points. We Were Feminists Once would be a great read for someone just getting interested in feminism or who just wants a brief overview of the quasi-feminist listicle-generating culture that Zeisler critiques.
Book – Seventeen-year-old Meridian Wallace is a bright, energetic woman and the only child of doting parents. Her parents encourage her curiosity and academic pursuits. She starts college at the University of Chicago in 1941 to pursue her degree in ornithology, the study of birds. She falls in love with a brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. He’s more than twenty years her senior, and she is attracted to his intelligence and their stimulating scientific conversations. When he is tapped to work at Los Alamos on a top secret project, Meridian follows him and postpones her acceptance to grad school for a year. She marries Alden and begins an independent study of crows. As the years go by, Meridian continues to submerge her own desires and dreams to accommodate Alden’s career. She finds companionship in some of the other women and then, in the 1970’s meets Clay, who introduces her to new experiences and encourages her independence. This book fascinated me with its depictions of the changing times and society’s expectations, particularly toward women. I sometimes hoped that Meridian would make different choices, but thought that her struggles and decisions were realistic. This book is an engaging, thought-provoking read.
Book– 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.
Book – Dealing with such topics as acrimonious family relationships, nature, and feminism, this collection of poetry has something for everyone. Particular standout poems are “A Day in the Life,” chronicling a typical terrible day for an abortion clinic worker, “Between Two Hamlets,” which takes a decidedly different perspective on the famous play, and the series of “Brother-less” poems, where Piercy explores her distant, regretful relationship with her half-brother. Piercy’s poems are full of beautiful, memorable images, such as comparing troubles to “sweaters knit of hair and wire” and exhorting women to love themselves like “healthy babies burbling in our arms.” I am not typically a huge fan of poetry typically but this collection is very accessible to the non-habitual poetry reader.
What Are Big Girls Made Of? will appeal to those who appreciate a lyrical, image-laden writing style in prose or poetry. You can find Warrenville Public Library’s poetry collection filed in the nonfiction collection in the 800s.
Book- At the beginning of the book, Plum Kettle feels like a very familiar type of protagonist: a ghost writer for the advice column of a preteen girls’ magazine, Plum Kettle is a meek, neurotic fat woman who aspirationally buys beautiful clothes in a size she has never been and is waiting for her ‘real’ life to begin after she has her much-desired weight loss surgery. Plum’s plans are derailed, though, when she notices a mysterious woman following her and gets embroiled in an underground community of feminist women who live life on their own terms. Plum agrees to run a gauntlet of challenges set by the mysterious woman, designed to expose the darker side of becoming desirable according to mainstream standards and to dissuade Plum from weight loss surgery.
Plum’s personal growth story occurs against the backdrop of a world beset by the machinations of a fictional home-grown terrorist group known as “Jennifer,” which targets those who dehumanize women in a series of violent vigilante strikes. Naturally, this story intersects with Plum’s and the roots of the terrorist group are eventually revealed.
This satirical novel will appeal to feminists, dystopian enthusiasts, and fans of dark humor. With a premise like this, it would have been easy to be too didactic and moralizing, but Dietland keeps the tone refreshingly breezy, though with a very strong bite.
Book – 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.
Book – Britt-Marie is in her 60’s, socially awkward and incapable of tolerating a mess. She has just left her husband, Kent, and is looking for a job. After haranguing the young unemployment officer, she lands a temporary position in the tiny, down-on-its-luck town of Borg as a caretaker of the recreation center. As she arrives into town, she is surprised to discover that the residents, particularly the children, are fixated on soccer. The children practice without a coach and proper playing field. Britt-Marie compulsively cleans their uniforms, as well as the recreation center and adjoining shop. Despite her very definite views on proper conduct (and correcting everyone’s lack of it), Britt-Marie finds that she is accepted and understood for the first time in her life. The story unfolds with hilarious antics and heart-rending moments. I loved these characters and their town. As stated in the book, “At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks him or herself are really just about one thing: how should you live your life?” Britt-Marie is finally able to figure out the answer for herself, as she learns to live life on her own terms.
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.
The 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.
Next 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!!!
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!
For 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.