Ryan Lawson's Reviews > American Dreams: Lost and Found

American Dreams by Studs Terkel
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Nov 19, 08

Recommended to Ryan by: NPR
Recommended for: the politically interested
Read in November, 2008, read count: 1

Studs Terkel’s American Dreams Lost and Found
Wk.30; Bk.30

This book took me forever to finish, two-weeks. Luckily, I was ahead by a week in my readings. It didn’t take long because it was lofty or too heavy because the language is pretty common. There are just so many parts! 100 interviews, phew.

Since these are transcribed radio interviews, the book tends to read like a This American Life story or something from the Story Corps project at NPR. So, much like those aforementioned programs, some interviews are extremely interesting while others left me wanting to skip, skip, skip through them.

All of the people in this book attempt to describe their American dream whether it be lost or found (hence the title). I really enjoyed the Beauty Queen, the Nisei couple, Vernon Jarrett’s, John Fielding’s, and Dennis Kucinich’s stories to name a few; but, by god, I dreaded reading some others such as Lee Kunzman’s (a racecar driver) and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s. That’s not to say that the latter’s stories are unimportant but they’re awfully boring and tepid.

I do feel this is a text that contains the real voices of America, which is why I consider it to be genuinely honest. However, it is pretty left-leaning; though, I think much of the country is left-leaning (yes, even during the time of this book’s publication). It highlights the classism of our culture. Some will ardently try and claim that classism is nonexistent in America, but we all know and see the truth behind it all. We’re steered by marketing and consumerism all the while we’re becoming more indebted and sick.

The structure of the book is poor. It doesn’t even make sense to me. I could not find a reason for why some parts of the interviews were italicized and others were not. I don’t know why the book was split into two parts, “Book One” and “Book Two.” Then each “Book” is split into smaller sections and each smaller section is put into another even smaller class… The scheme was really distracting and seemed like there was no rhyme or reason to it all.

I suppose it could have been used to give an example of classism itself thereby proving that it’s useless, arbitrary, and distracting; but, honestly, I don’t think Terkel meant it to be that way. I could be wrong, though (I usually am). One other reason that it took me so long to read was because I couldn’t find any coherency or progressive, linear movement. It just jumped around. I wanted a theme! In fact, I expected one because of the title of the book but I don’t think Studs succeeded in portraying American dreams, lost or found.

This was a good book, but it wasn’t anything extraordinary. I think it could be educational for some. I think if you lean left it will only bolster your opinion. But, I don’t think it’s a must read.

My thirst for fiction can no longer be ignored, next week I will read:

Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Wk.31; Bk.31
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