Book Review: Man Mission-Four Men, Fifteen Years, One Epic Journey by Eytan Uliel

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“The pick-up truck hurtles down a dirt road in rural New Zealand. In the back it’s just me, four loaded guns, and some kilo of drugs. I’m going to die, I think. And not for the first time today.”

Well, that’s one way to grab my attention. It’s also the opening of the book Man Mission-Four Men, Fifteen Years, One Epic Journey-a bloke version of Eat, Pray, Love, but also a complete anti-thesis.

Written by seasoned traveler and writer Eytan Uliel, Man Mission is an exotic stew with hearty heapings of fiction, travel guide and possible memoir. And it’s also an eye-opener for anyone whose idea of roughing it is no room service and believes a week of adventure is a vacation at the local water park.

Man Mission is about four young men, still in college and about to start life in the “real world.” Because of their friendship and their love of travel, these four mates will get together to travel to one country per year and will deal with the good, bad, and ugly as only they can (or think they can). They continue to do this even as they embark on careers, marriage and family life. All four friends find challenge in both the humdrum of domesticity and the excitement of their “Man  Mission.”

Man Mission is divided into three parts, simply called part one, part two, and part three; and it packs it up at the end with an epilogue called Home.

Some of the countries these mates traverse include Vietnam, Thailand, Fiji, South Africa, Iceland, Spain, Peru, and the good, old US of A. Included with the Man Mission is their manifesto, which includes such gems like going beyond one’s limits and no luxuries allowed.

A certain pink bracelet also is part of the Man Mission, a dude’s version of “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”

Over the course of 15 years these mates straddle a high wire of challenges of their vacations with the challenges of careers and domesticity (and like I mentioned, often the last two seem more challenging than the actual adventures).

The travels are definitely crazy and audacious. And the dialogue among the men is very rich and detailed, filled with both macho bluster and candid vulnerability. It certainly gave me a look into the male mind. Men, are both simple and complex (in other words, human).

If I have one quibble when it comes to Man Mission, I do wish Uliel would have painted the women in Man Mission with a more colorful brush. To me, they came across with all the depth as a shot of tequila when I would have preferred a full margarita (FYI-raspberry margaritas are my fave).

But at the end, Man Mission is a fast-paced, comical, and riveting book. I think it would make one heck of a movie. Hugh Jackman, call your agent!

 

 

Book Review: The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kedzior

When not being ignored by the two coasts, flyover country is being celebrated as where the “real Americans” live, usually by conservative pundits. And to these pundits, real Americans are defined as white and for the most part living in the suburbs or rural areas who define themselves as conservative Christians.

But not so fast, living in flyover country, I know we are a much more diverse bunch and so does Sarah Kedzior, which she sums up in her collection of essays The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America.

A reporter for Al Jazeera America and residing in St. Louis, Missouri, Kedzior’s essays focus on such thorny topics as race, income inequality, the friction among generations, education, foreign policy, the media, women’s issues and so much more.

Kedzior starts off The View from Flyover Country with an introduction rolling out what her collection of essays is all about, giving the reader a clear idea on what to expect among its six parts.

In Part One, Flyover Country, Kedzior defines flyover country and topics such as how expensive cities are killing creatives and hipster economics.

Part Two, Post-Employments, explains issues of survival, how workers are paying a steep price, zilch opportunities and how sometimes these issues make people do extreme things like lighting themselves on fire.

Race and religion define Part Three, where Kedzior writes about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Black Lives Matter, and what happened in Ferguson in the wake of Mike Brown being gunned down by police.

In Part Four Kedzior examines the broken promise of a higher education, and how school debt has crippled countless smart, hard-working and talented graduates. She also decries the deplorable pay of adjunct professors who work tirelessly to educate our students.

Part Five is a careful examination of our media and how gaining access seems to be only available to the well-connected elite (don’t I know it!) and the problem of fringe media in the Internet age.

Foreign policy makes up Part Six when it comes to gender, Edward Snowden, the situation in Iraq and basic human rights.

Finally, Kedzior sums things up with a standout essay on the importance of complaining. If people didn’t complain, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, black people would still be at the back of the bus, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry those they love.

While reading The View Flyover Country, I marked several pages with post-it notes and wrote down some key quotes and passages in my well-worn notebook. Kedzior writes in a down-to-earth way with smarts and clarity. She truly cares about these issues and implores us to also care about them.

The View from Flyover Country is a treasure of a book and is ideal for both the college classroom and book discussion groups everywhere.

Book Review: Half the Child by William J. McGee

Portrayals of single fathers seem to fall into only a few tired and clichéd tropes-the fun-loving, weekend dad, the deadbeat dad behind on his child support payments, the “my ex is a bitch so all women are bitches” bitter single dad and the completely absent dad who disappears from his children’s lives.

Fortunately, Mike Mullen from William J. McGee’s novel Half the Child is none of those things when it comes to being a single dad.

On the surface Mike seems like a regular guy. He’s a loving and devoted father to his little boy Ben. He works as an air traffic controller at LaGuardia while working on his master’s degree in psychology. He comes from a loving, yet at times, testing Irish Catholic family.

But Mike is also going through a contentious divorce that will turn his world upside down, especially when it comes to both his personal and professional life.

Divided into four distinct chapters called books, Half the Child follows four consecutive summers in the lives of Mike and Ben.

In the beginning, Mike is separated from Ben’s mother and they are on the verge of getting a divorce. It isn’t long before the divorce turns sour and Mike’s ex abducts Ben and leaves the country.

This sets off Mike into a nightmarish tailspin as he fights for his parental rights, which affects his personal life, including a budding romance. It affects him physically, emotionally, and mentally. Professionally, Mike is a mess. Mike begins to suffer a deep depression and often contemplates suicide. How will he cope with every obstacle that comes his way? What will happen to his relationship with Ben? Is it beyond repair? How will survive Mike survive this nightmare? All I know is I read this book with bated breath, turning page after page, hoping there would be some light at the end of the tunnel entrapping Mike.

Written by someone of lesser talent, Half the Child would come across as way too over the top to be believed. But McGee is a thoughtful and gifted writer whose “voice” rings true. Every character is rich in detail, no matter how major or minor. And the various scenarios in Half the Child are shown, not merely told.

At turns, Half the Child is heartbreaking and hopeful. It is filled with suspense, humor, anger, and intimacy, truly a grand achievement in story-telling. McGee is a writer to watch for, and I can’t wait to read more of his work.

Book Review: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

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I’ve been a feminist since a tender age and not ashamed to admit it. And in the age of Trump bragging about grabbing pussy to the importance of the #MeToo movement, not to mention the Kavanaugh hearings, feminism is more important than ever.

Though some anti-feminist naysayers are still stereotyping feminists as man-hating, pussy hat wearing, slutwalking dykes (or whatever), I know feminists (and feminism itself) are women and men with varying ideas, opinions, and lives who continue to shape and inspire me.

One of these feminists is writer Rebecca Solnit and her book of essays, Men Explain Things to Me. If the title seems familiar it is because Solnit wrote an essay of the same name in 2008 and it hit a nerve with every woman who has to put up with some man who wrongly assume her lady brain didn’t understand certain things, in other words, “mansplaining.”

Starting with her book with the title essay, Solnit’s collection of keenly-observed and passionately-written essays focuses on issues like rape and other sexual violence, global injustice, the meaning of marriage equality and so much more. Most essays are brief, but pack a wallop of thoughts that at are turns funny and tragic. And Solnit is smart enough to back up her essays with references and facts.

While reading Men Explain Things to Me I found myself nodding my head in agreement with Solnit’s evocative and intelligent musings, thinking to myself, “Yes, I’ve felt this way, too. I’m not the only one.” Or I found myself shaking my head, as if to say, “Damn, things are still messed up. What can we possibly do?”

Fortunately, in the final chapter, Solnit provides guidance on how we can join forces to make things better for women in our communities and throughout the globe.

Men Explain Things to Me is a slim volume but packs a meaty punch to feminism and is food for thought for feminists of all kinds.