Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Book Thoughts)

*** Editing this post to say that I just did a 10 second Google search to see what the author has been up to recently, and it’s a bit of a total barf fest. I hope he stays true to wanting to help people though.  I also now have an idea of why he was inserting so many figures and facts in there (see bottom paragraph), he was probably already planning a political run.  Anyway – my experience with the book stands and damn if I’m going to delete it even though Vance turned into a giant 🍆

I found a copy of Hillbilly Elegy shortly after it came out, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I wasn’t too interested in how political people were making the book at first and I think that was a mistake since it seemed to me like an awesome story of someone who overcame poverty & trauma, family, and upward mobility.

The first thing I liked was how right in the introduction Vance frankly outlined what he was trying to do with the book, said what his own biases were, and put his own lens into perspective for the reader.  He also explicitly states that he is focusing on a small geographical area, and while I get that he offended a lot of Appalachia with some of his portrayals he never claimed that the book speaks for everyone

Anyway, I’ll hit the good, bad, and odd below

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Hillbilly Elegy
  • Author: J.D. Vance
  • Publisher & Release: Harper, June 2016
  • Length: 272 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ frankly yes, understanding that some things have changed since 2016

Here’s the synopsis via Am@zon:

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures

I think Vance accomplished his goal and shared a story of a way of life that many Americans are not (while unfortunately many are) familiar with, although the political, social, economic landscapes have now changed during Covid.

What I took away was …

1} His family story, the biography. I loved how his great grandparents, grandparents, and parents all had to overcome generational poverty and trauma to find their own way.  Some succeeded, some didn’t.  His grandmother is absolutely fierce (but not without flaws) and I wanted even more MawMaw stories.

2} Regardless of class, region, economic status, race, a lot of us can relate to having to get past our parents’ choices and the situation we are born into.  Vance dealt with parental domestic abuse, utter insanity, drug use, alcoholism, rotating men in the house, and never had a stable home life except at his grandparents.  His mom actually was going to kill him once. His sister essentially kept them afloat.  Let’s take a minute, applaud the sister Lindsay, and appreciate how hard this makes a kid’s prospects even without poverty involved

3) Can’t argue that America (post covid is another story, another universe, so much worse) relies heavily on welfare and government funding.  I totally agree with Vance that at least part of the solution is targeting at risk youth with the social, emotional, and financial support that they need, plus the safety and sense of optimism to succeed.  I can’t even begin to think of how to unclusterfuck America right now but I’d love to see how Vance feels about this now in 2022

4) I touched on it above but google the ACE score and see if you have experienced any of the acute childhood events? Do they affect you today? I think the real story is how Vance managed to overcome these generational traumas and functions like a successful human with a wife and family.  He even helped his mother still, after everything

5) A lot of success is habitual, mental, and learned behaviors

The only thing I considered truly weird was that this is largely marketed as. Memoir, which is great.  I loved the biographical elements.  The thing is that Vance also threw in facts and data to push his narrative at times … which is great but makes it less memoir and anecdotal ish and more about the author being “right”. Just odd.

Overall – I would recommend book or audio equally, from the except Vance sounds like a decent narrator

Have you read it? What did you think??

Categories
audiobooks Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

When You Are Engulfed in Flames (audio thoughts) by David Sedaris

Continuing my simultaneous quests to read outside my lines and pick up random popular authors that I haven’t read yet, I turned to one of the many essay collections by David Sedaris.  This is his sixth, and while I heard that some of the earlier ones were more funny, I thought a “recent” collection might be more pertinent to today’s issues. Whether or not that is true, it was interesting to “throwback” to some of the things happening “back then” without today’s lens!

It is HARD to pick nonfiction these days when there is so much of it out there. I first heard the Sedaris name on Bojack Horseman, as his sister Amy voices a prominent character, and she seems like a hilarious person and decent actress.

Having gone to the Van Gogh exhibit recently and almost purchased a tote with the painting on the cover of When You Are Engulfed in Flames on it, i thought “hey this will be a good place to start”

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
  • Author: David Sedaris
  • Publisher & Release: Little, Brown & Company – June 2008
  • Length: 336 pages
  • The Audio: self narrated by David Sedaris, 9 hours from Hachette Audio

I think it is a little bit hard to rate humor because everybody has a different sense of humor.  While I have a feeling that Sedaris’ personality won’t go over well with the 2022 “woke” crowd, I personally find him funny and admire the way that he can make everyday embarrassment into something worth reading about.

If you are looking for a lighter read with funny observations about life and personal experiences, Sedaris seems like a regular go-to for many people and I would certainly read & listen to more of his writings.

I laughed the most when Sedaris was *convinced* that his husband wanted a human skeleton for Christmas, when his mother – in – law had a worm in her leg with a penis-shaped head, and, at the many mistakes that happen when the literal translation of languages leaves something to be desired.  This happens a lot between Japanese and English and we see the best of it as Sedaris tries to quit smoking by immersing himself in Japanese culture

There is also some heavier commentary on his early drug and alcohol use, getting out of the closet, and many things that he probably wasn’t laughing at at the time but now can reflect back on and find the story to tell.

The audio is great too, I think he is a great orator and kept it interesting. The live recording portions were of good quality too.  Why was Sedaris sitting mostly naked in a urology waiting room? Well – you’ll have to read to find out

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Crime

Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases (ARC Review) by Paul Holes

Thank you so much to Celadon Books for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

I am a newer true crime reader and Unmasked is interesting on many different levels.  I think Paul Holes is a face/name that most Americans recognize. I was surprised at the depth in his memoir and so glad to read his book!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases
  • Author: Paul Holes (with Robin Gaby Fisher)
  • Publisher & Release: Celadon Books , 4/26/22
  • Length: 288
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for true crime fans!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

From the detective who found the Golden State Killer, a memoir of investigating America’s toughest cold cases and the rewards–and toll–of a life solving crime.

I order another bourbon, neat. This is the drink that will flip the switch. I don’t even know how I got here, to this place, to this point. Something is happening to me lately. I’m drinking too much. My sheets are soaking wet when I wake up from nightmares of decaying corpses. I order another drink and swig it, trying to forget about the latest case I can’t shake.

Crime solving for me is more complex than the challenge of the hunt, or the process of piecing together a scientific puzzle. The thought of good people suffering drives me, for better or worse, to the point of obsession. People always ask how I am able to detach from the horrors of my work. Part of it is an innate capacity to compartmentalize; the rest is experience and exposure, and I’ve had plenty of both. But I have always taken pride in the fact that I can keep my feelings locked up to get the job done. It’s only been recently that it feels like all that suppressed darkness is beginning to seep out.

When I look back at my long career, there is a lot I am proud of. I have caught some of the most notorious killers of the twenty-first century and brought justice and closure for their victims and families. I want to tell you about a lifetime solving these cold cases, from Laci Peterson to Jaycee Dugard to the Pittsburg homicides to, yes, my twenty-year-long hunt for the Golden State Killer.

But a deeper question eats at me as I ask myself, at what cost? I have sacrificed relationships, joy―even fatherhood―because the pursuit of evil always came first. Did I make the right choice? It’s something I grapple with every day. Yet as I stand in the spot where a young girl took her last breath, as I look into the eyes of her family, I know that, for me, there has never been a choice. “I don’t know if I can solve your case,” I whisper. “But I promise I will do my best.”

It is a promise I know I can keep

First off, it’s extremely personal. I can relate to how seeing horrible things at work kind of ruins your mind after a while. I’ve got nothing on a crime scene investigator but WOW, some of his mental and interpersonal struggles resonate. Especially when he said he was afraid of not being able to give love as others need it – right at the end – he won me over as a person too. The personal vs professional struggle for Holes is an ongoing issue even after retirement and I hope he was able to save his second family

He also wrote about some truly grisly crime scenes, things that they definitely don’t show on TV. Scraping maggots out of dead flesh, yuckkkk I would die, I can’t even imagine how anyone in the profession does it. Holes definitely doesn’t skirt over details and it always shocks me what these monsters are capable of.

The cases were fascinating too, especially how after years and years of obsession he finally tracked the Golden State Killer. I have grown up seeing some of these cases in the news and the inside look was some mix of cool and terrible. So many casualties.

Speaking of casualties – I think it’s awesome that Patton Oswalt got the featured review, that story was 💔

Lastly, there was some dense but interesting info on the progression of DNA testing and using genetics (I always wondered if those ancestry websites were an FBI DNA grab lol) to solve cases and profile killers. Interesting stuff overall.

I definitely recommend this for true crime fans and anyone interested!

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

Far Sweeter Than Honey (Book Thoughts) by William Spencer

Thank you so much to Dart Frog Books for the finished copy of Far Sweeter than Honey: searching for meaning on a bicycle by William Spencer.  All opinions are my own!

I was so excited to read about Spencer’s trek from England to India via bicycle.  This is the perfect book for someone itching to travel right now and I thought that it had all the elements of a good travelogue – interesting people to meet, descriptive scenery, food and culture, and of course personal reflection.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Far Sweeter than Honey
  • Author: William Spencer
  • Publisher & Release: Dart Frog Books, December 2020
  • Length: 302 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of travel, culture, memoir

Here is the synopsis:

This is the true story of a young man’s epic bicycle journey from England to India. Traveling more than eight thousand miles, he encounters all manner of adventure, from the curious company of a butterfly in the wilds of Iran to the aftermath of a coup in Kandahar, Afghanistan—from navigating the foreign yet welcoming Muslim world, where he learns the basics of Islam, to the journey’s end in mystical India, where he arrives at an understanding of what it means to be free.

William Spencer establishes himself as a writer to watch in his debut book, weaving masterful storytelling and cultural insights in a page-turning adventure.

Spencer gives detailed and immersive descriptions of the countryside and cities, including weather, wind, and road conditions.  Whether a bucolic French countryside or the middle eastern desert, I thought he took excellent notes.

The journey originally happened in the late 1980s, and I wonder what was changed since then! Even though some elements may now be outdated, it was extremely interesting to read about the culture and culture shock, customs and people that Spencer encountered.

I heavily enjoyed the Turkey through Pakistan chapters the most.  Spencer met, for example, a college student at Damascus university taking an English lit course – and when talking about “popular authors”, none were familiar! The culture shock also came through as Spencer and his friend, Rudy, had to navigate different customs and hospitality norms, from how to act towards women to how much skin to cover.  Another image that stuck with me was the author sitting on the bank of Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water in the bible, and someone was waterskiing on Christmas eve!  I can see where his expectations and reality would have totally clashed in those situations.

Spencer was struggling to reconcile the western ideal with the eastern reality, and it gave me some things to think about too.  I liked that he could say like OK, my impression on these locals is adding to their impression of Westerners, and that’s important.  Especially in those middle eastern chapters, I found the author becoming more likeable in my mind as he started accepting things as they came.

I also really, really liked the longer Pakistan chapter at the end. I had a doctor friend from a northern region (I forgot where) and he showed me tons of videos and told stories from home, and I could definitely feel some of that regard from the expats that Spencer wrote about, even in the 80s or early 90s.

The last thing to mention is that photos and sketches from the journey are included! The photos are mostly of people, while the sketches are of scenery, trees and such, and I think they added a lot to the story.  The only thing that mystified me was how long it took for Spencer to just accept the fact that there is both good and bad in every culture! One cheating merchant or unruly group of kids would sour his mood towards an entire region, even where most experiences were positive, then he would swing back again when the next good thing happened.

That said though, the book was a great mix of hardship, positive and negative, and I think a great portrayal of the journey.  There is absolutely no way in today’s day and age that one is going to visit half of these places and I loved getting a glimpse of the foreign countries.

Definitely check this one out if you like travelogues, memoirs, new ideas and cultural exploration.  It’s a slow ride but totally worth it

Categories
audiobooks Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Crime

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann

It’s nonfiction November, and I have had this e-book on my digital shelf forever! Between the time of year and a friend’s recommendation, I finally read it. 

Quick verdict: a bit hard to follow at times, but I feel like everyone should be aware of this part of  indigenous history and the crimes involved

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
  • Author: David Grann
  • Publisher & Release: Doubleday, April 2017
  • Length: 352 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟✨

Here is the description:

From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
      Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.
      In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed—many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection.  Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history. 
      In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. Based on years of research and startling new evidence, the book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating

So Killers is an extremely interesting story with an investigative journalism and true crime feel.  i feel like if I hadn’t switched to the audiobook, parts of it would have been drawn out and slower to read, especially the third section.

The book is about the Osage and their exploitation, murders, and lack of justice during the 1910’s thru 1930s. After the tribe moved to a rocky, hard to farm area following the Louisiana Purchase and further movement west, prospectors struck liquid gold and the tribe became rich on oil. After that, they were prime targets of greedy men and women all over the country. Then the murders started.

Split into three sections, the first about the Osage and the victims, centered around one lady and her family in particular. The second section was about the investigation into the murders and the eventual FBI involvement, and the third from today’s perspective about the author’s research and viewing of the area.  He dropped in and saw how depressed the tribal lands looked in present time, with some descendants still looking for answers about the murders. 

I think it’s an important and brutal part of history to be aware of, but honestly wasn’t a fan of the telling. I read parts 1 and 3 and listened to Will Patton 🖤 narrate the second. The whole book felt loosely strung together and it was impossible to keep track of so many names; I felt lost through most of it.  There were sooo many names and descriptions in part one, and eventually I told myself that the names are less important than the history in general, but this ruined some of the true crime, whodunit part of the book for me

That said, there is also a lot of good, interesting, and exciting information and many exciting stories provided about the events and murders, of both the tribal members and of those investigating.  Anyone too close to the source usually ended up dead as well.  I couldn’t believe how much corruption and greed there was, for some reason I thought a lot of that outlaw justice and exploitation was over by the 1920s, but I was very very very wrong.

One of my favorite facts was about all the Sherlockian private eyes that were trying to investigate – this was funny only in that I never knew there were pipe smoking detectives trying to play Sherlock back in the early 1900s. I cringed when someone did a lobotomy and poked a murdered victim’s brain with a stick.

What I will carry forward is the knowledge that these injustices happened, and that justice for these people was hard fought, inconclusive, and fleeting at best.

Overall: read or listen to it for sure if you have interest in Native American, American history, true crime, history of law enforcement

** a quick note on the audio: published in 2017 by Random House Audio, 9 hours and 7 minutes long.  Narrators are Will Patton, Ann Marie Lee, Danny Campbell.  I will obviously listen to anything that Will Patton reads, I feel like he could make a cereal box interesting.  Each narrator read one section.  Ann Marie Lee was okay, but not amazing, and I think the author should have read Danny Campbell’s section.   If the text is a little dry I would say switch over and give audio a try

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Fiction General Fiction Historical Fiction

The First Christmas (ARC Review) by Stephen Mitchell

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Essentials for the early reading copy of The First Christmas by Stephen Mitchell!

Have you read any books recently that made you think of something from a new angle?  Stripping away the lens of Catholicism through the decades, Mitchell takes em objective look at the Nativity and Annunciation as they may have actually looked. How would a traditional Jewish couple take the news? What about a simple shepherd or stressed innkeeper? He even lightens the mood by sharing the views of the Ox and Donkey in the stable.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The First Christmas
  • Author: Stephen Mitchell
  • Publisher & Release: St. Martin’s Essentials, 11/02/21
  • Length: 224
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ for interested readers, secular and non

Here is the description from Amazon:

In The First Christmas, Stephen Mitchell brings the Nativity story to vivid life as never before. A narrative that is only sketched out in two Gospels becomes fully realized here with nuanced characters and a setting that reflects the culture of the time. Mitchell has suffused the birth of Jesus with a sense of beauty that will delight and astonish readers.

In this version, we see the world through the eyes of a Whitmanesque ox and a visionary donkey, starry-eyed shepherds and Zen-like wise men, each of them providing a unique perspective on a scene that is, in Western culture, the central symbol for good tidings of great joy. Rather than superimposing later Christian concepts onto the Annunciation and Nativity scenes, he imagines Mary and Joseph experiencing the angelic message as a young Jewish woman and man living in the year 4 bce might have experienced it, with terror, dismay, and ultimate acceptance. In this context, their yes becomes an act of great moral courage.

Readers of every background will be enchanted by this startlingly beautiful reimagining of the Christmas tale.

It was fun to see which stories, psalms, passages Mitchell was pulling his ideas from as well as his own thoughts. Some of his interpretation was tangential and distracting but overall it was an interesting mix of story, analyzing, and asking the reader to reflect and think for themselves.

There is a running theme of finding God, light, hope, etc, inside yourself before finding Him in the outside world, which I can appreciate as a fact since it’s one’s own lens that shapes their world view.

The one fascinating point that I hope makes it to the final copy, is where a character separated his hurtful and angry thoughts into a separate entity and simply said “no” to them. This idea of separating certain lies that one’s brain tells them, like an outside evil, is a fairly new concept to me but I’m interested!

Some parts were pretty far out there, but I’m comfortable recommending this one to interested readers, whether secular or non, for a well described tale of the times and journey of personal reflection on your own beliefs as well.

Thank you again endlessly to the publisher for my free review copy, all opinions are my own!

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

Valcour (Book Review) by Jack Kelly

Happy 4th of July!  Thank you ENDLESSLY to my partner St. Martin’s Press for the finished copy of Valcour:  The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty by Jack Kelly!

I grew up about 20 minutes from Valcour (town of Schuyler Falls) and am a sucker for both revolutionary and Lake Champlain history.  It was taught so extensively in our schools as kids, but is it funny that I care more as an adult?  I have never jumped on a title faster than this one, and although I have mentioned the book multiple times…. it’s time for this! 

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Valcour: The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty
  • Author: Jack Kelly
  • Publisher & Release: St. Martin’s Press, 04/06/21
  • Length: 304 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ for history and revolutionary readers!

The synopsis from Amazon:

The wild and suspenseful story of one of the most crucial and least known campaigns of the Revolutionary War when America’s scrappy navy took on the full might of Britain’s sea power.

During the summer of 1776, a British incursion from Canada loomed. In response, citizen soldiers of the newly independent nation mounted a heroic defense. Patriots constructed a small fleet of gunboats on Lake Champlain in northern New York and confronted the Royal Navy in a desperate three-day battle near Valcour Island. Their effort surprised the arrogant British and forced the enemy to call off their invasion.

Jack Kelly’s Valcour is a story of people. The northern campaign of 1776 was led by the underrated general Philip Schuyler (Hamilton’s father-in-law), the ambitious former British officer Horatio Gates, and the notorious Benedict Arnold. An experienced sea captain, Arnold devised a brilliant strategy that confounded his slow-witted opponents.

America’s independence hung in the balance during 1776. Patriots endured one defeat after another. But two events turned the tide: Washington’s bold attack on Trenton and the equally audacious fight at Valcour Island. Together, they stunned the enemy and helped preserve the cause of liberty.

This is a great history of the early revolutionary conflict im the Champlain Valley.  It adequately describes and vividly depicts the hardships that were faced trying to build the American fleet in order to delay the British from coming down Lake Champlain.  The book begins at the American retreat from Montreal, touches on the smallpox epidemic, and goes on to describe the people involved, the building of the American fleet, Benedict Arnold’s struggles with various idiotic military and government personnel, and finally the battle and aftermath, ending before Washington crosses the Delaware.  A fascinating but not necessarily widely known time period and I think the book is interesting, informative, and readable for history buffs and those with casual interest alike.

I think a super broad overview of prior events would have been helpful at the beginning, but Kelly drops us right into the story with Arnold leaving Canada. The book got off to a tad of a rough start for me without that broader context. The smallpox epidemic and the American retreat were terrible in terms of casualties and defeated morale, and it would have been a perfect starting point within a broader context. 

Once the Americans regrouped and fielded their sick, building a fleet was the next challenge.  Finding sailors. Food and hygiene. Native American relations.  Court tribunals and Arnold’s famous temper.  There is so much to consider!

Arnold is a fascinating historical figure and I liked how both he and Carleton, the British general, were shown. Ever wonder what led up to Arnold turning sides? Ever wonder how men on the ships relieved themselves? I have to say I never thought of rags on a rope but Kelly really brings the soldiers and ships to life.  A good history book makes me feel submerged in the events!

((Personal opinion: It always shocks me how Arnold is mostly only taught as a traitor, he is really so freaking interesting and got shafted))

Other than the beginning, I also felt like the maps left out a few necessary landmarks, like île Aux Noix.  The island was a horror show during the American retreat and totally deserves to be on the map, but I don’t have many other qualms about this book.  One is that if Kelly is going to call Canada Canada in 1776, why not mention Plattsburgh since pretty much anyone can put Plattsburgh on a map?  Small things.

Generally I found this to be a very readable account of the early revolutionary struggles in the Champlain Valley.  It briefly ties in the Declaration of Independence, naming of the states, and some of George Washington’s struggles too, so that is fun, but there isn’t a ton of revolutionary information not related to the lake.

If you like nonfiction, read Valcour. If you prefer fiction with a lot more detail and intrigue – read Rabble in Arms and in larger part, The Arundel Chronicles by Kenneth Roberts. I felt like Kelly took the outline straight out of Arundel #3, and the historical accuracy of either is pretty legit.

Now I’m sad because I hope I wrote a coherent sounding review without dragging too much of my own knowledge and prior reading into it!

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

ARC Review: Trout Water by Josh Greenberg

It was a good week when I had the complete and utter joy of requesting and receiving an early copy of Josh Greenberg’s memoir/journal/ruminations called Trout Water: A Year on the Au Sable! What was your last nonfiction read??

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Trout Water
  • Author: Josh Greenberg
  • Publisher & Release: Melville House, 3/23/21
  • Length: 176 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟✨ yes for fishermen and fans of nature stories!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

It’s the beginning of trout fishing season, and Josh Greenberg — proprietor of one of the nation’s most famous fishing outfitters, on America’s most iconic trout-fishing stream, the Au Sable River in Michigan —is standing in the Au Sable at dusk when he gets the call that a dear fishing buddy has died.

The solace he takes from fishing — from reading the movement of the river water, studying the play of the light, and relying on his knowledge of insect and fish life — prompts him to reflect on the impact of the natural world on his life in his fisherman’s journal.

Over the course of a year, the journal transcends fishing notes to include some beautifully lyrical nature writing, entertaining stories of the big one that got away, cheerful introspection about a love that’s hard to explain, and yes, a tip or two.

Eventually, Josh Greenberg realizes he hasn’t been all alone in the woods, not really. Much of his relationship with his family and friends has played out on the river. And as he catches — and releases — trout after trout back into one of the most beautiful rivers in America, Greenberg comes to help us realize, too, that there’s more to fishing than catching fish.

What. A. Joy.  The novel opens with the death of a colleague, where he is putting such importance on a phone call that he hardly remembered afterwards, but he remembered the trout rising that evening. Afterwards we follow him through memories, fishing trips, outings with his sons and family, and even an encounter with what might just have been an Indian skin-walker!

I liked the little bit of actual mysticism that was added in along with the generalized mysticism that anglers like to tie into fly fishing.

For non fishermen this book might drag at times, but I am seeing good reviews from casual readers that just Googled a few more perplexing terms.  Don’t know what a hex formata is? Google the term and then let Greenberg take you there!

The descriptions of the waters, scenery, trout, flies, hatches, and life’s toll in general are borderline reverent. I felt so THERE while reading.  I could have been wading in the shallows watching for a rise, the last reflection of the light dulling the waters. Greenberg offers a few good tips as well, of course, but I think his descriptive style is the strong point in Trout Water.

I grew up on a salmon river and it wasn’t until I went out west and started learning to fly fish that I started appreciating literature on the sport.  I have so much respect for this author and think the book is a great addition to the growing body of fly fishing literature.

I don’t know so many non-fiction but readable stories for non-anglers, but this book would read as a simple good story as well.  For fictional books I think Norman MacLean is a staple, obviously, and I have to recommend my dads book too! Anyone have any other good fishing book recommendations?

 

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Crime

ARC Review — Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green

Thank you so much to Celadon Books for the free advanced copy of Last Call in exchange for a. Honest review! All opinions are my own!

I am coming to love the true crime genre, except this book reads more like a history/biography.  The author focuses on the victims and the history of, and violence in queer New York City, paying little eventual attention to the trial and investigation of the murderer himself.  On that front I am staying neutral on rating and recommending as a true crime!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Last Call
  • Author: Elon Green
  • Publisher & Release: Celadon Books, 3/9/12
  • Genre: true crime, history
  • Length: 260 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟 & neutral, check it out if the content sparks interest

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

The Townhouse Bar, midtown, July 1992: The piano player seems to know every song ever written, the crowd belts out the lyrics to their favorites, and a man standing nearby is drinking a Scotch and water. The man strikes the piano player as forgettable.

He looks bland and inconspicuous. Not at all what you think a serial killer looks like. But that’s what he is, and tonight, he has his sights set on a gray haired man. He will not be his first victim.

Nor will he be his last.

The Last Call Killer preyed upon gay men in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s and had all the hallmarks of the most notorious serial killers. Yet because of the sexuality of his victims, the skyhigh murder rates, and the AIDS epidemic, his murders have been almost entirely forgotten.

This gripping true-crime narrative tells the story of the Last Call Killer and the decades-long chase to find him. And at the same time, it paints a portrait of his victims and a vibrant community navigating threat and resilience.

Overall this is not a bad read at all.  I am left to assume that there’s either not a ton of info available on the trial and murderer, his motives or interviews, or that’s just not what the author was primarily getting at. I think the murders themselves were well described and covered as well as the investigation, but the trial and post apprehension of the killer was practically nonexistent so my curiosity is only amplified now.

The odd part is that the book was SO painfully detailed up to that point that the ending felt bizarre.  There are pages and pages on unrelated things like where the victims’ parents’ went to high school, and a whole chapter on a piano player who was not even involved in the killings except as someone that played in the bars and spotted the killer once. I just frankly don’t care about that guy’s time on a cruise ship or where the murder victims parents grew up.  For all those minute details, the trial consisted of about… Heck I don’t know, one or two pages?

The book offers a fairly comprehensive history of certain gay bars and queer violence in New York City, among other towns, but the majority of the book is about the victims more than the crimes.  Some parts of their lives were actually interesting, and other parts, like sex life details and queer metro life such as “subway sammies” made me cringe a little bit as a healthcare worker.

Tracking the history of law enforcement and queer violence was probably where the book shined most.  Some parts seemed to have some organizational issues (for example, one random paragraph mentions another serial killer spotted in a bar, and he was never mentioned again), but the history of the bars and violence, right up through Cuomo Sr and Giuliani were well organized and presented in interesting ways.

The killer was portrayed in the final section of the book with a brief look at his college years and professional career, not in any kind of chronological order.  It doesn’t seem like a huge effort was made to find where he did the killings or even why, as no true motive was established. The only part of the trial consisted of one family member’s statement so I guess it was all based on the victims families?  Where is the detail for this part of the story? I’m guessing sealed court documents or something but this is just not mentioned.

Overall: I know the author wasn’t focused on the killer, but he could have trimmed some of the inane details and had plenty of page space to at least talk about the post apprehension and trial period.

Last but not least: I think it’s time for a good old fashioned @OneReadingNurse medical digression! Right at the end, an interviewee mentions PReP on the last page of the book.  I guess I don’t think about AIDS much in healthcare these days unless it is noted that a patient is HIV or AIDS+, but the piano player from above asserts that the Queer community  assumes undetected HIV is the same thing as uninfected, which seems scary to me. PReP is covered by most insurances and asserts between 74-99% effectiveness based on the goal of use, according to the CDC.   https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html It seems affordable and/but I didn’t realize people even in 2020 are just turning to drugs vs safe sex practices? What about other STDs? I guess that guy’s statement would require more research but it seems like the last thing the author wants readers to think about is how there are still extremely unsafe sexual practices occuring, which is something these people definitely need to be aware of.  I didn’t know it, anyway.

Thank you again to Celadon Books for my copy!!  I am stating neutral on the rating and again say check it out, releasing 3/9, if it sounds up your alley!

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

ARC Review: Robert E. Lee and Me by Ty Seidule

Welcome to a special edition of a OneReadingNurse book review … On American History. A topic that while I read and discuss extensively elsewhere, I normally keep off the blog where I focus on Fantasy/Sci-Fi. Below you can see a very small portion of my Civil War library, one of my favorite time periods to discuss.  And yes, I have read most of those texts.

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Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for the digital ARC of Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause by Ty Seidule.  The book reads as equal parts a reflection, a memoir, and a history lesson, with an interesting but brief speculation on alternate history as well.  I am just going to start by saying I agree 100% and wholeheartedly with his premise ((of the war being based on slavery, systemic racism and oppression via monuments, and Lee committing treason)), before I break down why I don’t necessarily love the book.

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Robert E. Lee and Me
  • Author: Ty Seidule
  • Publisher & Release:  St. Martin’s Press, 1/26/21
  • Length: 304 pages (including approx 60 pages of index)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ maybe

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

In a forceful but humane narrative, former soldier and head of the West Point history department Ty Seidule’s Robert E. Lee and Me challenges the myths and lies of the Confederate legacy–and explores why some of this country’s oldest wounds have never healed.

Ty Seidule grew up revering Robert E. Lee. From his southern childhood to his service in the U.S. Army, every part of his life reinforced the Lost Cause myth: that Lee was the greatest man who ever lived, and that the Confederates were underdogs who lost the Civil War with honor. Now, as a retired brigadier general and Professor Emeritus of History at West Point, his view has radically changed. From a soldier, a scholar, and a Southerner, American history demands a reckoning.

In a unique blend of history and reflection, Seidule deconstructs the truth about the Confederacy–that its undisputed primary goal was the subjugation and enslavement of African Americans–and directly challenges the idea of honoring those who labored to preserve that system and committed treason in their failed attempt to achieve it. Through the arc of Seidule’s own life, as well as the culture that formed him, he seeks a path to understanding why the facts of the Civil War have remained buried beneath layers of myth and even outright lies–and how they embody a cultural gulf that separates millions of Americans to this day.

Part history lecture, part meditation on the Civil War and its fallout, and part memoir, Robert E. Lee and Me challenges the deeply-held legends and myths of the Confederacy–and provides a surprising interpretation of essential truths that our country still has a difficult time articulating and accepting.

Alright, that summary is a mouthful but Seidule has excellent credentials to live and experience the history firsthand, from first a civilian and then a military perspective.  Some people may remember Seidule from a viral video in 2017, or more recently for openly criticising POTUS after his West Point commencement speech.

The aforementioned video, HERE, in 2017 went viral. Seidule received death threats

After reading this review, if you want to see a phenomenal speech that Seidule gave at Lee Chapel, the basis for this book, and summarized at the end of the book, take the time and watch it HERE.

Alright enough, let’s discuss the book itself .

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Seidule does a pretty good job condensing a TON of history into enough paragraphs that lay readers can understand the injustices of slavery, reconstruction, and the civil rights movement, in relation to the public placing of confederate propaganda.  Why did a monument pop up? Well, someone probably initiated a bill about desegregation or civil rights.  Maybe there was an important vote coming up.

Later on I discuss how Seidule arranges the history he presents, but I am a little shocked at how much he glazes over Union blunders (Maryse Hill/Fredricksburg for example) then criticizes confederates for similar slaughters.  Actually it’s not shocking because lay readers won’t care and Seidule wants us to be mad. Right. Onwards.  I had to google one general that he mentioned there – Humphreys – and found his paragraph to basically be the wikipedia entry… Facepalm.

Seidule’s wife originally tuned him into the Confederate Lost Cause myths of slave happiness, of southern gentlemen, of lies and propaganda, and the myth of Lee himself.  Let me stop there and say that Seidule is pissed, and I don’t blame him but I found his passion/anger extremely off putting.  There is enough anger already, but the author is targeting a white middle class audience and he wants us to get the point.

On that note, how readable is this book for that audience?  The chapters are LONG.  I read textbooks for fun and am down for it, but after chapter 4 a lot of readers are going to tune him out, which is curious because you have to read until chapter 7 to hear anything positive said about Lee.

My first question as a lay reader would be: What did this guy do, that everybody worships him so much? Was he a military genius? What did he accomplish? Are any part of the myths accurate?

Well – lots, yes, quite a bit, and some, yes, are those answers.  Without going into a historical diatribe I can say that in chapter 7, Seidule finally answers those questions and gives Lee enough credit to make him not seem like a complete idiot.  Prior to that, if I knew absolutely NO history, I would have not understood why Lee was worshipped so much.  For the readers who just want to be mad about racism through a 2020 lens and ignore the war itself – this is a fantastic book.  He even ends chapter seven with a perfect segue to the rest of the book: why it was SO bizarre that Lee went with Virginia.  Did he commit treason? I think so.  Should we worship him? No.  Does he deserve a tad bit of credit as a military strategist and general? I think yes.

Even if you don’t watch the entire speech linked above, watch like 30 seconds of Seidule’s longer speech, note the Recumbent Lee statue, and you’ll see that Lee is actually somewhere at or around Jesus in Southern history and curriculum

Not so much anymore, but he was.

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This is a picture of a Civil War media book, where the New York Times coverage is shown next to the Southern newspaper’s coverage of certain events.  Northern vs Southern media has always, always been a battle.  Seidule acts like this started after the war and it didn’t, the myth was propagated even as the war happened.

I am from northern NY and was raised with a GRADE SCHOOL curriculum  in which we watched a movie where a slave was made to create a fire under a cauldron, and boil himself to death while being stabbed with a pitchfork.   One of the more interesting chapters talked about the totally disillusioned southern curriculum, where slavery was a positive thing for everyone.  Thankfully I wasn’t raised with any of these myths.

Another ‘myth’ discussed is that the South only lost because of manpower and resources.  There was definitely a numerical advantage (I am not getting into numbers here) even though it wasn’t as profound as re written history wants people to believe, and you can’t possibly deny that Southern supplies and conditions were atrocious.  My point is that even though the myths are myths, they are rooted in SOME fact. Except the slavery one, which is total hogwash and I agree with Seidule that Gone With the Wind is total trash.

Content wise, the most informative and disturbing part was about the lynchings in Virginia and history of lynching in general – I thought it started with civil rights but was predominately a white punishment before the war.

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One more interesting thing I want to point out is that to an amateur historian looking for books about the civil war and the portrayals of the Generals, society, historical accuracy vs a lauding of a myth… There is a lot of literature out there.  It is easier to find books on the confederacy and confederates, although I probably have dug up equal reading on both sides at this point.  Most of the Union biographers don’t match the gusto of the southern ones.  The year the books are written and the historian themselves effects the writing so much, from the textbooks to the fiction.  I even have books of songs and poetry and medicine from the war and hardly any of it is impartial, which only roves that from day one this has been a charged subject.  I think the historians that Seidule mentions are quite good picks from what I can tell, and have ordered a few of their books based off his recommendations.

The takeaway: Do I recommend this book? Seidule sets out to prove that the Civil War was about slavery, and monuments are about oppression and racism.  He succeeds very handily.  Minus the long chapters and Seidule’s angry “passionate” and often repetitive writing… I would say read the book.  Read it but not as a Civil War historical source.  Read it to learn about the roots of racism and how it’s manifested over the years, but keep your mind open to further historical reading because it’s all pretty fascinating.