Funny, sickening, eye-opening memoir about growing up in blue-collar Flint, MI in the 60's-70's and going to work at a GM plant (building Suburbans an...moreFunny, sickening, eye-opening memoir about growing up in blue-collar Flint, MI in the 60's-70's and going to work at a GM plant (building Suburbans and Blazers) in the late 70's through the late 80's. There's lots of drinking, drug use, violence, boredom, incredibly stupid management decisions (including a mascot - the "Quality Cat" called "Howie Makem" ), layoffs, more drinking, and screwing around on the job. Michael Moore encouraged this guy to write, gave him his first break, and Hamper also appears in "Roger & Me".
The book is very good, but a bit much all at once. I think reading a couple of chapters at a time (or as much of it was written originally, as a series of magazine/newspaper columns) is the way to go - then it's less repetitive and overwhelming in its bleakness (working at GM was "like being paid to flunk high school").
Still, I never would have guessed that reading about working the line in Flint would be so interesting.
Sample of Hamper's style:
"Not all diversions were of an amusing nature. I recall one that really gave us fits. GM and the union got together and installed these mammoth electronic message boards in various locations around the plant.....The messages they would flash ranged from corny propaganda (green neon bulb depictions of Howie Makem's face uttering shit like QUALITY IS THE BACKBONE OF GOOD WORKMANSHIP! to motivational pep squawk (A WINNER NEVER QUITS & A QUITTER NEVER WINS!) to brain-jarring ruminations (SAFETY IS SAFE)....).
I remember the first day the message board went into operation. For the entire shift, it beamed out one single message. They never erased it. We kept waiting for another phrase to come along and replace it. No such luck. The message blazed on brightly like some eternal credo meant to hog-tie our bewildered psyches. The message? Hold on to your hardhats, sages. The message being thrust upon us in enormous block lettering read: SQUEEZING RIVETS IS FUN! Trust me. Even the fuckin' exclamation point was their own. (p. 160)"
Of course, Hamper adds a "CKED" taped over the "N!" to amuse his fellow shoprats for a few hours, until his foreman Gino, fearing the wrath of the overlords, rips it down amidst a chorus of booing.(less)
A near perfect book club pick - it foster some great discussion about women's roles (both historically and today), responsibility, true love, children...moreA near perfect book club pick - it foster some great discussion about women's roles (both historically and today), responsibility, true love, children, quality time, divorce, the role of the media in the personal lives of famous people, etc.
I started off really disliking both Mamah and Frank, but Mamah became a lot more complicated in the middle of the book. Yes, she abandoned her children, but at least she didn't *just* do it to be with Frank. And how much of her did her children have before this, anyway? Upperclass mothers didn't always have terribly close relationships with their children - nannies and housekeepers (and in Mamah's case, her sister Lizzie) had arguably more day to day importance in their children's lives.
The ending is shocking. And true, which makes it that much harder to absorb. I did eventually get past wanting to know how much of this novel was true, but aspect (fiction about real characters) is still a little weird for me. I wonder how descendants of the novel's real-life characters feel about how everyone was portrayed.(less)
There was a lot that bothered me in the first part of the book, but I got totally swept away by the story in the second half. My Newbery Project revie...moreThere was a lot that bothered me in the first part of the book, but I got totally swept away by the story in the second half. My Newbery Project review is here. I keep going back and forth between giving it 3 and 4 stars (because it had some flaws for me, but the story was so powerful....guess I'll go with 4). (less)
Interesting, but a bit uneven. This young guy who grew up in Michigan with a bunch of brothers (in family that does a lot of hunting and fishing) gets...moreInteresting, but a bit uneven. This young guy who grew up in Michigan with a bunch of brothers (in family that does a lot of hunting and fishing) gets a copy of Escoffier's encyclopedic classic to French cuisine - Le Guide Culinaire (published in 1903). After a bad job making snapping turtle soup, he decides he needs to cook a feast using Escoffier's recipes and meats he has collected and hunted himself, with some help from friends.
A huge variety of foods were used then - weird organs that get thrown away or turned into catfood today. And lots of foods we don't eat now - sparrows, squabs (baby pigeons), all kinds of weird fish, etc. So the author describes the year he spent collecting all of this stuff - gigging for bullfrogs in Michigan, hunting bears in Alaska, fishing for shrimp and eels and rays, hunting elk in Montana (where he lives with his girlfriend - a vegetarian), wild boars in California, climbing on top of air conditioners in back alleys in various towns in Montana trying to find baby pigeons.
Rinella is not as skilled a writer as Anthony Bourdain, but if you like reading about unusual foods - and hunting - you'll probably enjoy this. I think this could have been fantastic if it had been edited a bit better - the narrative wanders a bit too much, and it gets confusing sometimes when he goes off on a tangent about his father and WWII and their food.
I would love to have been at the 3-day feast that he served all of his friends at the end - with 45 courses. (less)
This was still very good fun, but I just didn't think it was quite as good as the previous ones in terms of character development and plot. The histor...moreThis was still very good fun, but I just didn't think it was quite as good as the previous ones in terms of character development and plot. The history (U.S. Ohio River to Mississippi) was very interesting, though. (less)
This is a very well-written book - which frankly surprised me, because it's a book by an archaeologist. In my experience, academic archaeologists are...moreThis is a very well-written book - which frankly surprised me, because it's a book by an archaeologist. In my experience, academic archaeologists are not very good at writing for people who haven't had at least a few years of grad school.
Anyway, this is *much* more accessible to the general reader than Pauketat's previous book (Ancient Cahokia and the Mississippians). And this is a very good thing, because there really aren't many books explaining modern archaeology to an interested public.
It's short and it has some great descriptions of an under-appreciated wonder of the prehistoric world located right in the middle of the US. In addition to telling people about Cahokia, and why it's so different from other prehistoric sites in the US, and when it rose and fell, and what kinds of things happened there, Pauketat also describes some of the archaeologists who've worked at Cahokia over the years - their colorful histories and weird foibles - and the accidental discoveries that have accompanied interstate highway construction and suburban sprawl.
I think Pauketat (or his editors) made a very deliberate decision to NOT include any flashy illustrations in this book. He focuses on what he thinks happened at the site (including several quite "ghastly and bizarre" rounds of human sacrifice), describing it as people's actions - part of religion and political ploys - and downplaying the *stuff* itself. A lot of archaeology books are largely pictures of flashy artifacts and skeletons, but Pauketat tries to put the Native people of the past and their ideas foremost.
Unfortunately, a lot of what archaeologists know about the people who lived at Cahokia and their beliefs is....uncertain. We can't ever really know if a certain tribe's stories about "He-who-wears-human-heads-as-earrings" is related to the high status burials at Cahokia that wore "long-nosed God" ear ornaments, or how the culture hero Red Horn was related to Mesoamerican gods and what their connection was to Cahokia's rulers. So a lot of what Pauketat proposes is couched in "perhaps" and "probably", as is noted in O'Hehir's salaciously titled Salon.com article on the book. I think that's the way it has to be.
Pauketat also very deliberately (but not so obviously, to the general reader) downplays the human effects on the ecological and environmental processes at work around Cahokia. In the late 70's and 80's, many archaeologists used an "adaptive" model to explain a lot of what happened in prehistory. Pauketat goes to the other extreme, portraying Cahokia and its "big bang" as a result of specific historical political and religious machinations - which probably does explain a lot of what happened there better (though I'm not really convinced that the supernova in 1054 AD really did set it all off).
These things didn't happen in an environmental vacuum, however. People there did need firewood and food, and these things were undoubtedly harder to get near Cahokia after so many years with so many people living there. But maybe that's a topic for a different book on Cahokia - one that emphasizes environmental history along with human actors? Regardless, this is an important, enjoyable, and long overdue book. I'd have given it 5 stars, but it didn't have that un-put-downable quality that the best non-fiction writers (like Tony Horwitz and Robert Sapolsky) manage to inject into their books. (less)
I'm not sure if I would have enjoyed this memoir so much if I hadn't loved Perry's earlier books (starting with Population: 485). But I did enjoy it,...moreI'm not sure if I would have enjoyed this memoir so much if I hadn't loved Perry's earlier books (starting with Population: 485). But I did enjoy it, for the most part. Occasionally I got bored with the reminisces about making hay in his childhood, or his family's experiences at a tiny evangelical church. But reading about his daughter and her guinea pig, and getting bit on the butt by a coonhound while buying piglets, and his wife's homebirth made up for it all.(less)