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: Voices From the Rust Belt – Edited by Anne Trubek

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Just what is the Rust Belt? In simple terms it stretches from Milwaukee to Buffalo with cities like Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh inbetween, cities that were once known as vibrant communities of manufacturing that have fallen on hard times but are trying to recapture their former glory. The Rust Belt is also a place I call home.

Sometimes romanticized,sometimes looked down upon, and often ignored, the Rust Belt is a place rich in history and tales so I was only to happy to find Voices from the Rust Belt, a collection of essays by people of all kinds who deftly write about what it is like to live in the Rust Belt.

After a brief introduction, which describes what is the Rust Belt and why it matters, Voices from the Rust Belt is divided into four parts.

1. Growing Up
2. Day to Day in the Rust Belt
3. Geography of the Heartland
4. Leaving and Staying

I pretty much loved all the essays written by talented women and men of all kinds. Some stories I could relate and others opened my eyes to experiences completely foreign to me. These stories are written by journalists, immigrants, students, artists, business owners, activists and working stiffs of all kinds who call the Rust Belt home. Nearly every one of theses writers impressed me and I was thrilled to find brief bios of the writers, which gave me further insight to these people beyond their written words. I also pondered what it would be like to see a well-made documentary on the Rust Belt – Ken Burns, I’m looking in your direction.

If I have any quibbles with Voices from the Rust Belt it is there is no voice from Milwaukee. Hmm, maybe in the sequel.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran

It’s probably not a secret that I’m a fan of British pop culture critic, author, feminist and all-around cool British bird Caitlin Moran. Ms. Moran began writing about pop music when she was still a teenager growing up in a struggling family that lived in a council house and later hosted a TV show. Later Moran proved her feminist street cred via her funny, soul-searching, thought-provoking columns on everything from her budding sexuality as a teenager to her challenges combing marriage, child rearing and writing. She also writes about serious issues that affect women (and the men who love them) with the same aplomb she writes about pop culture. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I picked up to of her earlier books Moranthology and How to Be a Woman. And her novel How to Build a Girl is a must read if you’ve ever been a teen-age girl (or, just human).

So when I found out Moran had released another book of essays, Moranifesto, I did a little jig in my leopard-spot flats and got myself a copy, which I can safely say is another feather in marvelous Ms. Moran’s chapeau! And it’s the perfect feminist elixir in a time of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, #marketplacefeminism, Brexit, the sad loss of pop culture icons like Bowie, and a host of other issues that affect women across the big pond and women who live in your neighborhood.

Moranifesto is divided into four distinct parts:

  1. The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live
  2. The Feminisms
  3. The Future
  4. Epilogue

In The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live, Moran examines why her utter disdain for the late Margaret Thatcher to her despair over the death of David Bowie. She muses the hatred of her printer (always a letdown for writers on a strict deadline), famous people she has annoyed and taking a rather unpleasant ride through the streets of New York City. Her chapter on her love of bacon will resonate with anyone who thinks bacon is the food of the Gods. And I adored her essay on smells that remind us of childhood—our mother’s perfume, pencil shavings, calamine lotion, puppies, lilac trees—scents that make us a wee bit nostalgic for perceived simpler times when anything and everything seemed possible.

In Feminisms Moran pokes fun at her face, which she describes part potato, part thumb and asks why we have to make everything “sexy?” She implores us to find another word for rape, her support of Hillary Clinton, giving up high heels, the most sexist TV show called “Blachman,” the type of show I hope never makes our shores, and speaking of TV, spends a day with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”

And in part three, Moran looks into her crystal ball to figure out the future. In this batch of musings she claims reading is fierce yet she thinks it’s okay if her children aren’t big readers. She validates the importance of libraries. She also gets serious discussing Syria and refugees. And when she muses about women who mess things up things for the rest of us you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement.

The fourth part of Moranifesto, the epilogue, is brief, yet probably the most important part of the book. The epilogue is a letter to Moran’s daughter Lizzie. In this letter, Moran is dead (yes, a wee bit morbid). Lizzie is about the turn 13 and Moran want to share some advice Lizzie might find useful. Moran tells Lizzie “try to be nice.” Niceness will always shine and bring people to you. Also, keep in mind that when you think you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown have a cup of tea and a biscuit (British term for cookie).

Other sage wisdom, choose friends in which you can be your true self and avoid trying to fix someone or avoid someone who thinks you need fixing. Though it may difficult in our shallow culture with its fixation on women’s outer shell, make peace with your body. Make people think you are amazing conversationalist by asking them questions; what they say might prove useful one day.

And probably the most powerful piece of Moran’s letter to Lizzie can be summed up in the following sentence.

“…life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLINGEXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES.”

True…so true.

Throughout Moranifesto, there are essays that really got under my skin, but I can’t really share why because they are way too personal; and at times, I need to keep certain experiences close to my vest. But to give you a sneak peak, these chapters include:

  1. The Rich are Blithe
  2. Poor People are Clever
  3. Two Things Men Need to Understand About Women
  4. How I Learned About Sex
  5. Let Us Find Another Find Another Word For Rape

And some other interesting chapters I think a lot of women will find fascinating include:

  1. The Real Equality Checklist
  2. What Really Gives Me Confidence
  3. All the Lists of My Life

So my lads and lasses, grab a cuppa (cup of tea), enjoy some fish and chips (or as we call it here in Wisconsin a Friday night fish fry with French fries), ring up your mates (call your besties), and keep calm and carry on (Netflix and chill). Caitlin Moran is back and better than ever!

P.S. Moran’s sister works at a perfume shop and she let Moran smell the fragrance David Bowie wore and Moran claimed it smelled of pineapple and platinum. Well, I know what pineapple smells like, but what about platinum? What does platinum smell like? I suppose it smells cool and metallic. But this Bowie were talking about. I bet it smells warm and ever ch, ch, ch, changing to whatever we desire. For me this would smell of a special amber oil in my possession, vanilla as I pour it into some cookie batter, a match after I blow it out, the lavender growing in a mug on my window sill, freshly made bread, the pages within a book, my mother’s chicken soup, and yes, bacon.

Taking One for the Team: Right for a Reason-Life, Liberty, and a Crapload of Common Sense by Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark

right-for-a-reason-life-liberty-and-a-crapload-of-common-sense-198x300Has this election season made you a nervous wreck? I know it has me at the end of my tether, and with my bad allergies, morbid depression, and chronic insomnia, I don’t know if I should make a plate of brownies, charge my smart phone, or buy a truckload of Xanax. Either way this election goes (I’m going to plug my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton), by this time next week we will have a new President-Elect.

Anyway, here is my latest installment of “Taking One for the Team,” Right for a Reason: Life, Liberty, and a Crapload of Commonsense by Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark, two Indiana-based conservative pundits who go by the name of Chicks on the Right. The Chicks have a radio show on WIBC in Indianapolis, an occasional newspaper column for the IndyStar, their own website featuring their opinion pieces (under the pen names Mockarena for Weaver and Daisy Jo for Clark), links to other like-minded conservative websites and memes well-versed in the radical right mindset. Their social media has plenty of followers and they are often profiled and interviewed by more mainstream media outlets.

Not living in Indiana, I first became aware of the Chicks when they wrote a scathing screed for the IndyStar lambasting liberal feminists for wearing vagina costumes or thinking tax payers should pay for their birth control pills or being all-around entitled, whiny, crybaby harpies. They claimed they were the true feminists because even if their husbands left them for “younger models” they would just pick themselves up by their bra straps, soldier on, and not expect any type of safety net to bail them out. And for some odd reason, stiletto shoes were also involved in the world of Chicks-fried feminism.

Well, as one of those liberal feminists the Chicks love to hate. I can’t recall seeing anyone in a vagina costume, and I don’t exactly expect anyone to pay for my birth control; I just believe there should a safety net for people who are struggling and a woman’s reproductive issues are a very important component of health care. I hardly think this makes me a virulent shrew. And I have to remind the Chicks, even this libtard, feminazi in sensible sling backs, pays her fair share of taxes.

This opinion piece went viral, picked up by other media outlets including Bust, Jezebel, We are Libertarians, and Democratic Underground. My curiosity piqued, I decided to learn more about the Chicks. I found their website, which included a high-heeled shoe in the logo (because the ladies love their shoes, amirite?). The Chicks’ apparent goal is to give conservatism a “makeover” because when people think of conservatism they think of old, white, silver-haired, dour and boring men. Well, actually I think of skinny blonde women talking smack…and writing smack.

Which finally brings me to Right for a Reason…

In Right for the Reason, the Chicks go deep as a Jimmy Choo in-step when it comes to serious topics regarding capitalism, race, feminism, guns, abortion, political correctness and LGTBQ issues.

On the surface, Right for the Reason’s first chapter, Capitalism is a Good Thing, isn’t exactly something I disagree with. I am very grateful for living in a country where entrepreneurs of all kinds from my friends Laura and Myra making a living designing jewelry to domestic diva, Martha Stewart, can hone their skills, talents and expertise and become successful. But capitalism is not without its faults whether it’s the malfeasance found on Wall Street or CEOs making 400 times what the average worker and treated to a golden parachute worth millions even though they make decisions that sink a company and screw over employees, clients, consumers, shareholders and other invested interests.

And then then there is their take on Occupy Wall Street, which to the Chicks, pretty much was made up of dreadlocked hippies pooping in the streets while updating their Twitter feeds on their iPhones. Sure, there were quite a few members of Occupy Wall Street that fit that tired stereotype. But if one looked any further, you would also find knitting grandmas, blue collar types and suit-wearing professionals. They also found one ridiculous Occupy Wall Street manifesto that they use to sum up the entire movement. That’s like me saying all members of the Tea Party can’t spell, are total bigots and dress like Paul Revere. I wouldn’t because I’m pretty sure the Tea Party types have a variety of people in their ranks, too.

When it comes to the poor here in the United States, the Chicks compare the poor in a first world country versus those in a third world country. Well, of course there are differences! We talking about a first world country compared to third world countries, where there are vast differences in policies, infrastructure, education, and so on. But the Chicks never delve into those complex topics. Instead, the poor in America often own TVs, DVD players, stereos, kitchen and laundry amenities, and even cars! Well, a lot of the poor live in apartments where kitchens come fully equipped and there are laundry facilities. One can buy certain luxuries like a TV used or have they been given as gifts. And if someone doesn’t live in a place with reliable public transportation a car is a must to get to work, school and to run errands. Yes, a lot of poor people work and/or going to school. Not everyone who is poor is lazy, popping out babies, uneducated, not working, watching “Jerry Springer” and fully dependent on the taxpayer. And it seems to the Chicks the only people who pay taxes are themselves and their fellow conservatives.

As for corporate welfare? The Chicks briefly refer to corporate welfare was the bailouts, which mostly happened in 2008—when Bush was still President.

In this chapter, the Chicks bring up the idea of “mincome,” which apparently all of Canadian liberals played around with back in the 1970s and it was a huge failure because everybody became a lazy slug or something like that. I had heard of mincome so I did some investigating. Turns out mincome was something relegated to mostly Manitoba, and the only people who pulled back on working and earning a paycheck were teenagers and mothers with babies and very young children. Most citizens continued to work regular jobs while also receiving a decent minimum income from the government.

And just who were among these unwashed hippies who came up with the idea of mincome? Milton Friedman, yep, that Milton Friedman.

In America is Exceptional the Chicks go all neener, neener on liberals who have the audacity to point out America’s flaws, both past and present. And Weaver tells the tale of her father coming to America as an immigrant and having nothing but good things happening for him, not quite owning up to the privilege he already had in place—being white and highly educated. He certainly had it better than some immigrants coming from places like Mexico and Syria, or what my great-grandfather, Max, faced coming here as a poor orphan from Germany when he was still a teenager. Anyway, the vastly smarter and funnier, Jimmy Dore, sums up what’s great about America in the final chapter of his book, Your Country is Just Not That Into You.

Other subjects where Chicks have all the intellectual heft of a feather include the idea of hands up, not hand-outs. I guess you’re alright to get some help if you’re a single mom who identifies as a conservative. The rest of us can just die in a fire.

When it comes to the first amendment the Chicks bitch their right to free speech is being violated due to one set back on Facebook, not quite acknowledging they have a radio show, a newspaper column, an active social media presence and a book. If that’s called having one’s first amendment rights being trampled on, sign me up! They also call political correctness stupid with all the maturity of kindergartners in a sandbox, claim they don’t see color when it comes to the thorny topic of race, stomp their stiletto-shod feet for their right to own things that go Pew-Pew-Pew (to the uninitiated they are talking about guns, not Pepe le Pew). They think the war on women is a load of crap (yep, these two classy dames love to use the word crap), but throw plenty of insults when it comes to women they disagree with, often using hateful dialogue to disparage a more liberal women’s looks. They are proudly pro-life and are convinced that all clinics that provide abortion services resemble the horrors of Kermit Gosnell’s clinic; most clinics don’t resemble Gosnell’s clinic at all.

And if you happen to be gay? Well, quit being so obvious about with your same sex wedding announcements, gay pride parades and suing Christian bakers. Yea, like the heterosexuals have to hide their lifestyles and loving with abiding shame.

In the final chapter the Chicks offer their declaration on why it’s time for a conservative makeover. They claim it’s not cool to be a conservative, not mentioning conservative ideas and opinions can be found all over in print, televison and digital media. As I write this, one of the hottest pundits in right wing media is yet another skinny, blonde, Tomi Lahren. Heck, she’s so hot she’s allegedly dating a cast-off of The Bachlorette!

But just how do the Chicks plan to give conservatism a make-over. Well, according to the cover and the contents of Right for a Reason it has to do something with Christian Loubatins, clothes from the MILF Collection at Forever 41 and calling out Nancy Pelosi for using Botox. Actually, the Chicks call conservative makeover consist the following:

1) Discuss conservatism with young people
2) Stop being prudes (it’s okay to cuss)
3) Remember the 80/20 rule (it’s okay if other people agree with only 80% of the time)
4) Stop with the labeling (interesting, considering the Chicks have a pretty strict guideline for what makes a true conservative)

As for the GOP, among the things the Chicks suggest include being offensive (no problem there with Trump as a possible next president—shudder) rather than defensive, use limited government, the Constitution and personal freedom when it comes to messaging, empower women and minorities, use all media platforms, and fight fire with fire.

Okay, the Chicks do have a point on certain things. I think they bring up interesting concepts when it comes to messaging. And they call out both Todd Akin and Todd Rokita for their positively boneheaded remarks, Rokita making condescending compliment regarding CNN’s Carol Costello’s looks and Akin’s opinions regarding rape. And though the Chicks are pro-life, they are also in favor of contraceptives and Plan B.

But ultimately, Right for a Reason is just a shrill and malicious, with writing on par with a middle school mean girl’s Twitter diatribes against various liberals, feminists, progressive activists, not to mention President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sandra Fluke, Beyoncé, Al Franken, Sheryl Sandberg, and Whoopi Goldberg. They offer no promise of hope and how to reach across the aisle to truly improve the state of the USA in the 21st century. Right for a Reason is also devoid of carefully honed research on issues that are crucial to us as citizens at one of the most critical times in country’s history. In the end, you aren’t left with the feeling conservatism doesn’t need a makeover; it needs a complete do-over, a total reboot, the kind of boot that can’t be found at any pricey shoe boutique.

Right for a Reason: Life, Liberty and a Crapload of Common Sense is right on one thing. It is a crapload.

 

Taking One for the Team: Crippled America- How to Make America Great Again by Donald Trump

Crippled_America_-_How_to_Make_America_Great_AgainNow do you really think I could take one for the team without reviewing a book by the GOP’s presidential nominee Donald Trump? Of course not. Initially, I thought of reviewing Trump’s classic The Art of the Deal. But decided to check out Crippled America: How to Make Great Again because this idea of making America great again is Trump’s campaign slogan, and according to the bloviating Cheeto, only he is capable of making the good old US of A great again.

And boy, in Crippled America Trump never fails to remind you of this…

Now I’m not exactly naïve. I know damn well Donald did not write this book; he can barely handle writing a decent Tweet. Most likely he hired a ghost writer to write Crippled America basing this tome on Trump’s speeches, interviews, and yes, his Tweets.  Well, I can say one thing good thing about Trump; he’s keeping ghost writers in business. They can use the paycheck.

Okay, onto the book…

After a preface called “You Gotta Believe”, Crippled America is divided into 17 short chapters focusing on several key issues: 1) Winning Again 2) Our “Unbiased” Political Media (the quotes are in the text of the book) 3) Immigration: Good Walls Make Good Neighbors 4) Foreign Policy: Fighting for Peace 5) Education: A Failing Grade 6) The Energy Debate: A Lot of Hot Air 7) Healthcare is Making Us All Sick 8) It’s Still the Economy, Stupid 9) Nice Guys Can Finish First 10) Lucky to Be an American 11) The Right to Bear Arms 12) Our Infrastructure is Crumbling 13) Values 14) A New Game in Town 15) Teaching the Media Dollars and Sense 16) A Tax Code That Works 17) Making America Great Again

Now I have to give The Donald some credit. He is quite right on certain things that need attending to here is the good old USA, including our schools, our healthcare system, our infrastructure, our economy and our treatment of our returning veterans. However, these are mere talking points and he never gives us solid, key evidence of how he can solve this other than using the Trump Brand.

You might ask yourself, “Okay, Donald. Just what is crippling America?” And unless you’ve been taking a very long nap, what’s crippling America are the very things Donald has been spewing about ever since he threw his hat into the political ring last year. And pretty much what he says are the same things political pundits spew about on everything from FOX News to AM radio to various Sarah Palin’s word salads vented via her social media. They include:

President Obama, Hillary Clinton, most Democrats and other assorted liberals, Congress, Muslims, immigrants, unions, the media, public schools, science and scientists concerned with climate change, and big government (well, any form of government actually)

Not surprising President Obama isn’t Trump’s favorite person. After all, Trump was a total birther who doubted the validity of the President’s birth here in the United States even after Obama presented his long-form birth certificate. He pretty much hates Obama, blaming him for everything from our relations to foreign countries to our healthcare woes to our piss poor public schools.

Other conservative talking points Trump pukes up within the confines of Crippled America is the threat of China’s booming economy and American companies outsourcing jobs to China (like Apple) without taking responsibility for outsourcing many Trump-related products to China. He just says they are good practices for him because they help him save money.

His take on energy is pretty much the same as Sarah Palin’s, “drill baby, drill,” while dismissing various green technologies like solar panels and wind turbines. He is also a denier of climate change and doesn’t seem to give a rip about anything environmentally-sound.

His only solution when it comes to our troubled healthcare system is to completely repeal and dismantle the Affordable Care Act while not offering any valid concepts and ideas on how we can offer good healthcare options that serve the public’s best interests.

At blame for our educational systems is mostly teachers and teacher unions. He blames government interference for our troubled economy, and doesn’t even brooch the issues of Wall Street greed, big business malfeasance and stagnant wages hindering the average American’s spending power. He talks about religious freedom but only how it affects good Christians like himself. As for Muslims? Well, you don’t have to read Crippled America to know how feels about Muslims. And his take on immigration is pretty much “Mexicans suck. Close the borders.” He is a huge fan of the second amendment and brags about having guns and doesn’t even want to discuss the most benign arguments for gun control.

Now how would Trump solve these problems that cripple our Nation? Well, he doesn’t exactly offer any salient policy, thoughtful ideas and solid evidence other than the various buildings and golf courses he has built around the world as if that is the same thing as running the United States. Though he does offer some ideas on making our tax code simpler, you’ve probably heard or read of these ideas elsewhere. Trump hardly breaks new ground.

Trump’s ego is all over Crippled America. He brags about his business acumen, never bringing up the failures of Trump University, Trump Airlines, Trump Vodka and other Trump-related beverages, Trump magazine, Trump’s line at Macy’s, various casinos and not to mention, his bankruptcies. He also brags of his family values, which is rather rich coming from a man on his third marriage and a known adulterer.

Crippled America is pretty much one big brag fest for Trump. As I mentioned offers no policies, ideas, evidence and careful research on how he would truly act if he was President. Furthermore, Crippled America is devoid of any endnotes or footnotes pointing out solid proof of what plagues America and why these issues plague America. If I handed in an essay in college written is such a flimsy manner I would have received a much deserved grade F.

You know, if Trump wasn’t running for the most important job in the world, I would just laugh over this book. But Trump is running for president and this chills me to my tailbone. The President of United States is not the same as being at the helm of a cheesy reality show. It is a job that requires wisdom, an open-mind to differences in race, gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation and differing ideas and opinions, diplomacy and empathy, the ability to see several sides to an issue, the aptitude to handle a crisis, excellent communication skills (especially listening), and other skills Donald just doesn’t seem to have or is willing to develop. Oh, being the President also requires a full understanding of the Constitution and its amendments, the Bill of Rights and how the three branches of government work. Wait, does Trump even know we have three branches of government?

When you think about, running for President is a job interview, the most important job interview I can imagine. Do you think you’d get a job if you spent your entire interview saying horrible things about women, Muslims, immigrants, your competition, or made fun of a disabled person?

I didn’t think so.

Trump sums up Crippled America, not with his tax returns, but with his so-called personal financials, and offers an “about the author” page that goes on for 17 pages. Yes, 17 pages. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount wasn’t 17 pages long.

In the end I can sum up Crippled America in 17 words: I survived reading Donald Trump’s Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again. No liquor was involved.

Book Review: Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown

modern girlsIt is New York City in 1935. On the lower east side lives Rose and her daughter, Dottie, two Jewish women living what appear to be two very different lives. Rose is an immigrant, married with four children, Dottie being the eldest. Dottie is a career woman (as much as a young lady could be a career woman in 1935). She works as a book keeper for an insurance company and is about to be promoted to the head of her department and looks forward to attending college. She’s also being romanced by a nice young man named Abe.

As different as their lives seem, Rose and Dottie share a secret. They are both pregnant. And they aren’t exactly thrilled about the news. Now that she’s older and her children are nearly grown, Rose has a huge desire to get back into the activism that captivated her in her youth. Plus, her family is challenged enough with four children. Her childbearing days should be over.

As for Dottie? Well, for one thing, she is unmarried and Abe hasn’t put a “ring on it.” Oh, and there is the pesky fact that Abe is not the father. Dottie has been impregnated by a dastardly rake named Willie Klein, a fledgling journalist who wants to write stories about the turmoil that is taking over Europe, not settling down with a wife and a young mouth to feed.

Each chapter Dottie and Rose trade off, telling their stories in first person. We get their perspectives on their lives, their predicaments they face and the journeys they go through before they reach the final decisions that will shape their futures.

Dottie tries to find a reasonable solution to her unexpected pregnancy. She can’t tell Willie. He’d probably just run off, and besides, they’re not betrothed to each other. It was just one night…a night Dottie remembers was one of deep passion, which aroused an erotic awakening in her that she wonders if sweet Abe could ever muster if he could get past a few virtuous kisses and some chaste hugs.

Knowing she can’t keep her little secret a secret as her body blossoms with pregnancy, Dottie conjures up a plan to seduce Abe when they go on a week-end get away to a place called Camp Eden, a week-end that will rely on a bit of alcohol and a lot of seduction on Dottie’s part. She can’t face the idea of being a single mother to a bastard child. It would be a shandeh (Yiddish for shame or embarrassment to my fellow gentiles). As for abortion or adoption? Dottie also thinks of these two options, but they leave her feeling just as confused.

And then there are Dottie’s dreams for the future. Being a whiz at math, Dottie loves her job as a bookkeeper (despite a few sketchy co-workers) and desires a college education when often women didn’t even make it to high school (my maternal grandmother never did). But thanks to Rose, a college education might be a real option for Dottie…if only she wasn’t facing an unplanned pregnancy.

As for Rose, as much as she loves her family and arises to the challenges of making her small tenement apartment a home, which includes making the Friday evening meal, the shabbes, she knows there is so much out there. She hungers for the life she had when she was younger, the life that included embracing activism and social justice, especially when it comes to her fellow Jewish immigrants. But how can she embrace the passions of her youth if she has another child to take care of? What will she do?

Though Modern Girls starts a bit slow but once it gets going it is truly a compelling read. Dottie and Rose are two very engrossing characters facing huge choices at a time when women’s lives were so much more constricted than they are now. And yet at the same time, I found their options, dreams, fears, ideas and desires to very timely. Women, whether they be traditional “Roses” or contemporary “Dotties” face these enduring issues in 2016 (I’d like to know what they would think of the possibility of female president, which we might just get if Hillary Clinton gets elected and let’s not forget, Bernie Sanders, a Jewish man, also ran for president).

In the end, both Rose and Dottie make two very distinct decisions that are the best for the time and the predicaments they face. And instead of everything being wrapped up in a neat little bow, the reader is left hanging. How will Rose and Dottie’s lives turn out?

But Brown leaves us guessing, and that’s one of the reasons why I liked Modern Girls so much. It left the futures of both Dottie and Rose up to me, and I wished them nothing but happiness, but I also want a sequel to Modern Girls. Brown is a very talented writer, with a wonderful way of using both English and Yiddish, showing not telling the worlds Dottie and Rose exist, and making Dottie and Rose such multi-dimensional and captivating characters. It’s a great read and one that will inspire much conversation, and ideal pick if you belong to a book discussion group

 

Book Review: Under the Affluence-Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America by Tim Wise

under the affluenceEvery once in while there comes a book that makes me want to shout from the roof tops, “Everybody, please read this book if you truly care about humanity and society!” Tim Wise’s book Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America, is one such book. And though it may sound melodramatic, I truly think Mr. Wise’s book is an excellent primer on exactly why our nation seems so skewed, confused and messed-up, especially during one of our most scary, yet important presidential election years ever.

Scholar, activist and writer, the aptly named Tim Wise, has focused on societal issues since college and one of his first jobs was working against former KKK grand wizard, David Duke’s presidential bid. Since then Wise has worked on behalf of many progressive causes and has written several books, Under the Affluence being his latest.

In 2016 Wise wonders why do we (as a nation and a society) shame the poor (and let’s face it, anyone who isn’t mega wealthy) while praising the super-rich? And what does that say about us and what impact is this having on society?

Wise calls this detestable movement “Scroogism,” and, yes, based on Ebenezer Scrooge from the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. And it is a theme that has shaped our thinking about the haves vs. the have-nots and have-lessers, much of it encouraged by big business, Wall Street, billionaires and millionaires, CEOs, the radical right political pundits, the current state of the GOP, conservative Christianity, mainstream media and often, ourselves. And yes, that includes the have-nots and have-lessers. And Wise offers evidence through nearly 40 pages of end notes to give gravitas to Under the Affluence.

Under the Affluence and its theme of Scroogism is divided into three well-researched, scholarly, yet audience friendly, maddening, heartbreaking and in the end, cautiously hopeful chapters. These chapters include:

  1. Pulling Apart-The State of Disunited America
  2. Resurrecting Scrooge-Rhetoric and Policy in a Culture of Cruelty
  3. Redeeming Scrooge-Fostering a Culture of CompassionIn Resurrecting Scrooge,

Wise carefully researches how in the 21st century the United States is a society that bashes the poor, blames victims, the unemployed and underemployed, embraces a serious lack of compassion and celebrates cruelty while putting the wealthy and the powerful on a pedestal. And Wise examines the origins of class and cruelty in the United States, the ideas of the Social Gospel and FDR’s New Deal, the myths and realities of the War on Poverty from its inception to Reaganism (and how liberals responded), and the concept how culture of cruelty affects who receives justice and who receives nothing at all except horrifically de-humanizing insults, both in rhetoric and reality. It is probably these two chapters that truly stirred my rage, and at times, I had to put Under the Affluence down and take a few deep breaths.But just as I was about to chuck Under the Affluence across the room and spend a week in the corner rocking back and forth, I read the final chapter, and felt a bit of hope. Perhaps, as nation things aren’t as bleak as they seem. In this chapter, Wise reminds us to look for possible roadblocks on the way of redemption. He also mentions that besides facts, use storytelling because behind every fact there is a very human face with a story that must be heard. He behooves us to create “a vision of a culture of a compassion” and how we can help communities to control their destiny.

Now, I am a realist. I know for the most part Under the Affluence is a book that preaches to the choir, especially in 2016. But maybe, just maybe, Under the Affluence will open minds, soften hearts and act an agent for, as Elvis Costello so aptly put it, “peace, love and understanding.” Under the Affluence is not only one of the most important books to come out in 2016; it is one of the most important books to come out in the 21st century.

Wise also takes a look at the world of the working poor and the non-working rich, the myth of meritocracy, horribly mean-spirited remarks, much of it coming from the radical right, including pundits and politicians, excessive CEO and big business pay, the devaluing of work that truly benefits all of society-nursing, teaching social work, protecting the public, improving our infrastructure, creating art, taking care of the elderly and disabled, and so on. And let’s not forget the very valuable work that doesn’t pay-parenting, eldercare, volunteering, etc.

In Pulling Apart, Wise takes a hardcore look at our current state of joblessness, wage stagnation, underemployment and how they affect us in this stage of “post-recession recovering” America. He investigates today’s realities and the long-term effects of income and wealth inequality. Wise contemplates who and what caused these problems and how race, class and economics are involved.