Sarah Kendzior has been blogging, writing, and working as a journalist since the early 2010s.3.5 stars—Originally published on my book blog, TheBibliophage.com.
Sarah Kendzior has been blogging, writing, and working as a journalist since the early 2010s. Her book, The View from Flyover Country, gained prominence after the 2016 election because of her insightful tweets about the rise of the 45th President. Clearly, I’m just getting around to reading it, three years later.
The essays in the book reflect Kendzior’s perspectives and the issues she cares about. One element she discusses regularly is how living in the Midwest, specifically St. Louis, colors her experience. Having lived in St. Louis for ten years (decades ago), I could relate. She’s certainly not a D.C. policy wonk or a member of the coastal elite. And I think that’s an advantage here.
Kendzior divides her essays into several topic areas, including her Midwest experience, the “post-employment” economy, race, religion, higher education, media, and some international topics. The essays are wide-ranging in one sense and repetitive in another. Within each topic group, Kendzior hammers home certain points repeatedly. She’s passionate about what concerns her. I’m okay with that, especially because my brain retains repeated points more accurately.
Essays I Liked Her essays affected me. Here are just a few I particularly appreciated.
Her essay, “The Wrong Kind of Caucasian,” discusses the Boston Marathon bombing and and its Chechen Muslim perpetrators. This angle added to what I learned from Andre McCabe’s book, The Threat.
In “Meritocracy for Sale,” I learned about the prevalence of unpaid internships and how they’re necessary for getting ahead in some careers. Kendzior explains that only people wealthy enough to self-finance 6 months (or more) in an extremely costly city can follow this career path. The exclusionary nature of these internships concerns me.
One of my favorite essays was “In Defense of Complaining.” Kendzior uses it to lambast the positive thinking movement, which I heartily applaud. We need to stop punishing people for speaking their truth, even when they are struggling. As she puts it,
“Telling people not to complain is an act of power, a way of asserting that one’s position is more important than another one’s pain. People who say “stop complaining” always have the right to stop listening. But those who complain have often been denied the right to speak.” (ebook, p. 224)
My conclusions I appreciated these essays, and found the book to be a relatively easy listen in terms of writing style. Kendzior is a talented writer willing to dive deep into the issues she cares about. I certainly care about these issues, whether I agree completely with her perspective or not.
Other recent reviewers say the essays are dated, and so they are. But the sad part is what’s NOT dated. Our economy is still a hot mess, and only getting messier. It’s harder than ever to make ends meet, especially for groups the 1% tries to marginalize. Higher education costs haven’t improved, and the topic is hot for 2020 Presidential candidates. Kendzior wisely presents the faculty perspective, in addition to the student side. And media still plays a huge part in our lives, while we question its credibility more than ever. We also have moved deeper, more overtly into racist behavior so her essays there retain critical value. So, yes they’re dated but the concepts continue to be absolutely relevant.
As usual, I wish a professional narrated this book, rather than the author. Her delivery was fairly wooden and sounded like a student reading in class, rather than the passionate professional she is.
I follow Kendzior on Twitter, and now I’ll try her podcast also. It’s called Gaslit Nation, which I think is a brilliant title.
I recommend A View From Flyover Country if you like to think about today’s issues from a unique perspective....more
Originally published on my book blog, TheBibliophage.com, where you'll find an eclectic assortment of book reviews.
Mary Oliver is widely accepted as a master of the wriOriginally published on my book blog, TheBibliophage.com, where you'll find an eclectic assortment of book reviews.
Mary Oliver is widely accepted as a master of the written word. Before her death in 2019, she published regularly and with plenty of acclaim. Winter Hours was published in 2000, in what might be considered a simpler American time.
Yet, Oliver keeps her writing simple despite the clanging bells of news events. Simple is a compliment here—she doesn’t get distracted or caught up in gimmicks. She focuses on her own life, and her relationship to the natural world around her.
In Winter Hours, she also presents essays on four poets: Poe, Frost, Hopkins, and Whitman. Her sense of literary critique was new to me. It’s unique to have a poet discussing another poet’s style and work.
I also appreciated her thoughts about the writing process. She says, “YEARS AGO I set three “rules” for myself. Every poem I write, I said, must have a genuine body, it must have sincere energy, and it must have a spiritual purpose.” And goes on a bit later to add, “I want each poem to indicate a life lived with intelligence, patience, passion, and whimsy (not my life—not necessarily!—but the life of my formal self, the writer).” (ebook, p. 24)
This perspective is meaningful to me as both a reader and a writer. The energy and purpose of the author affects me, as a reader. And when I’m reviewing, I want to be able to convey that feeling to my own readers. Without it being like childhood’s “whisper down the lane” game.
My conclusions So much of Oliver’s work resonates with me. Maybe it’s because I’m over 50 now. But I think it’s more than that. I love the way each of her words is fully intentional. The amount of time she dedicates to the craft of her writing is obvious. And yet, she’s playful in her descriptions.
“Winter walks up and down the town swinging his censer, but no smoke or sweetness comes from it, only the sour, metallic frankness of salt and snow.” (ebook, pg. 93) What an image!
Read Mary Oliver if you’re looking for a picture of contentment. She may be privileged in the sense that many of us don’t experience contentment often. But whether you are striving or even feeling oppressed, you may find some calm and quiet in Oliver’s cadence and peaceful thoughts.
I’ll leave you with one more: “You can fool a lot of yourself but you can’t fool the soul.” (ebook, pg. 14)
Pick any of her works. But pick up Mary Oliver sooner, not later. You’ll be glad you did....more
Joanna Guest compiles and discusses the myriad notes she and her brother received from their dad, Bob. He created a note—with both writing and art—eveJoanna Guest compiles and discusses the myriad notes she and her brother received from their dad, Bob. He created a note—with both writing and art—every day during most of their school years. Bob is an artist, a philosophic thinker, but most of all, he’s a dad. And like most dads, he wants to be good at that lifetime job. He wants to raise children who grow into good people who love and appreciate themselves and others.
Guest captures this perfectly as she chooses which notes to include in Folded Wisdom. But she also gives her readers more than just the notes. By organizing them, she adds a feeling of flow to their spontaneous creation. She also offers context, with some family history and insights into her dad’s perspective on life.
This is an inspiring book, without being preachy. It’s not a self-help book—despite all the sage advice contained therein. There’s no conversation about taking Bob’s advice and applying to our lives. And yet, perhaps its reading community will do just that.
Guest also ends the book with a tear-out page for readers to follow in Bob’s footsteps. She even included folding directions. So, more than giving admonitions on how to be, Folded Wisdom gently encourages readers to turn around and do this for the kids in their lives.
Imagine if every reader started this tradition with their kids! Wouldn’t our world become a better place for all the people who’d grow up with so much love expressed to them?
My conclusions I read this book from the perspective of both daughter and mother / grandmother. I was so close to my own dad, and remember many of the wise and witty things he said. But, like Guest’s father Bob, the most important thing I received from my dad was unconditional love. And what I would give for a treasure chest of his thoughts like this!
The notes Bob wrote to his young children are quite precious. But I loved the notes from their teen years the most. The ideas get more complex, and the connections to current events grow stronger. He’s preparing his kids to launch, while wrapping his brain around having an empty nest.
This is a kind of gently illustrated memoir of parenthood. And at the same time, it felt like a “daily wisdom” book because each entry is relatively short. Never mind pigeon-holing it into a genre. Just go buy a copy!
Acknowledgements Many thanks to Celadon Books and the author for a copy of this beautiful book in exchange for my honest review. I will treasure it!
In Advanced Love, Ari Seth Cohen uses photos and words from older couples to prove that love and romance are no less precious as we age. In fact, theyIn Advanced Love, Ari Seth Cohen uses photos and words from older couples to prove that love and romance are no less precious as we age. In fact, they may be more so. Some couples dialogue about lengthy marriages, while others tell of meeting each other after long lives. The couples are gay, straight, and one story has a trans spouse. Cohen draws from places around the world as well.
I’m inspired by the fashionable style these couples exhibit. Even the more conservative dressers have a unique approach. Obviously, my husband and I need to up our game.
This was a spur-of-the-moment pick for me after seeing a recommendation in O Magazine. It was the perfect read for Valentine’s week, and just before celebrating our 24th anniversary in early March. Give it a shot if you need to read something kind and caring. ...more
Michael Lewis researches weather data, the Commerce Department, Accu-Weather, and why people don’t always heed weather warnings. Plus more! He says thMichael Lewis researches weather data, the Commerce Department, Accu-Weather, and why people don’t always heed weather warnings. Plus more! He says the Commerce Department should be called the Science and Technology Department, making shady businessman Ross the wrong choice to head it. Short and hard-hitting!
Short and not-so-sweet essay from the acclaimed Michael Lewis. It's basically a day in the life of the author. During this day he's in the White HouseShort and not-so-sweet essay from the acclaimed Michael Lewis. It's basically a day in the life of the author. During this day he's in the White House press room, talking ethics, visiting Trump International Hotel in DC, and watching the State of the Union address with Steve Bannon. Lewis has a much more interesting life than most of us!
This is just under an hour on audio, and well read by the author. It's good to hear his inflections and attitude, but really, his perspective is pretty clear from just his words.
I enjoyed it, despite the fact that it's essentially all old news at this point....more
Terese Marie Mailhot bares it all in her memoir, Heart Berries. Nothing’s off limits—abuse, mental illness, dysfunctional family and relationships. ITerese Marie Mailhot bares it all in her memoir, Heart Berries. Nothing’s off limits—abuse, mental illness, dysfunctional family and relationships. I often say that a good memoir lets me slide inside the author’s skin. This is a rough skin to spend time in, and I give Mailhot credit for her unvarnished telling.
Mailhot also shares insights into her upbringing and life on a Canadian First Nation reservation. She connects to the healers, artists, and activists in her family. At the same time, none of these people are perfect, and Mailhot isn’t afraid to shine her light into their darkness. But you also feel her connecting that light to herself and becoming more clear about her own issues.
Plus, she unflinchingly lays out prejudice and savior complexes from the white people in her life, most especially the man she’s writing letters to in some chapters.
“I think self-esteem is a white invention to further separate one person from another. It asks people to assess their values and implies people have worth. It seems like identity capitalism.” (page 26, ebook)
My conclusions This was a tough read. I started on audiobook, and thought the narrator read the book with a frustrating, choppy style. Then I picked up the Kindle version, and found that some of that was based on Mailhot’s own writing style. She has a stream-of-consciousness approach, shifting from her lover to her father to her children all in half a breath. It can be disconcerting.
On the other hand, reading is my way to experience a life radically different than my own. And Heart Berries delivers that in spades. Mailhot is insightful and uses language to touch the reader’s heart. Right before she smacks you upside the head.
“Observation is a skill. Observation isn’t easy, and the right eyes can make me feel like a deer, while the wrong ones make me feel like a monster.” (page 17, ebook)
If you’re looking for a indigenous, feminist, angry voice that’ll break your heart and rile you up, this is the book for you.
Michael Eric Dyson tells it like it is in Tears We Cannot Stop. Subtitled A Sermon for White America, it is just that. In bothFull review at TheBibliophage.com.
Michael Eric Dyson tells it like it is in Tears We Cannot Stop. Subtitled A Sermon for White America, it is just that. In both structure and tone, Dyson combines his experience as both pastor and professor. It is a moving and emotional book. But it’s also exquisitely literate and deeply meaningful.
As a white woman, I’m on a quest to expand my perspective. This book sets the tone for another year of questioning and learning. Dyson speaks right to his readers, calling them “Beloved” throughout. But it’s tough love, since he’s also pointing out faults in logic and understanding.
Read this, my friends. Read it and follow Dyson’s suggestions. Share it and discuss it. And maybe, just maybe, we can start making this world a better place for everyone....more