Uncategorized

Review: The Three Graces of Val-Kill by Emily Herring Wilson & Arthurdale by Nancy Hoffman for Nonfiction November

51Ul-5tvMhL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

My Interest

While I’m not as liberal as Eleanor, I do admire her above almost all American women. I have read most everything on her and by her. The most interesting parts of her, to me, are her celebrated political partnership with the husband who both nearly destroyed her with his unfaithfulness and then set her free to live her own life. Her selflessness in nursing him through the early days of his polio is another example. She survived her #meetoo moments in her own home where her grandmother was forced to have multiple locks installed on Eleanor’s bedroom door to keep out the drunken out-of-control young uncles. She may have been groomed and used by her charismatic female headmistress–whom she adored all her life. That she carried her own suitcase, wrote the letters to G.I.’s mothers that she promised at their hospital bedsides, and that she grew as a person to leave behind the racism and antisemitism of her time and class make her worthy of my admiration. That she was a pretty awful mother (she bought one of those baby cages to hang outside a window for the baby to nap in) is evident in the 19 marriages between her four children. But, even in that she worked to improve and did improve. And, she became a truly beloved Grandmother. All while earning the title of great StatesWOMEN of our nation and the world.

The Story

This book purports to tell of one of the three great experiments in living Eleanor either helped to create or was a participant in (for the second see the second review; the third was her end-of-life living arrangement). In the late 1920s, while FDR was either on his houseboat in Florida or at Warm Springs, Eleanor and two friends (who were life partners or today would have married) set up housekeeping together in a cottage they had built, with FDR’s full approval, on his “Hyde Park” [really Springwood] Estate. They all slept in a dormitory-style bedroom, had their linens monogrammed with their joint initials, and fell happily into a sort of community home life that they enjoyed.

Nan Cook and Marion Dickerman became part of the Roosevelt family in many ways. Nan built the famous Vall-Kill furniture at a small woodshop near the cottage. Marion and Eleanor would buy and jointly run the Todhunter School for Girls in New York. The ladies accompanied Eleanor and her two youngest sons, Franklin, Jr. [the second son to bear that name–the first one having died in infancy] and John on camping trips, up to Campobello, and on a trip to Europe which FDR’s mother ruined by insisting that Eleanor and the boys have a chauffeur since Eleanor was First Lady of New York state.

But Eleanor kept evolving. She kept moving. She was still Franklin’s official wife, even if his secretary became his emotional wife. She was also still mother to five children who, for much of this time, were basically abandoned by FDR. She was a leading spokeswoman for Democratic Women in New York state. Nan and Marion were also involved in politics, but so too were Caroline O’Day and her partner and Elinor Morgantheau whose husband would serve FDR as Treasury Secretary.

In the White House, Eleanor had little time for the friends back in the little cottage. She famously took up with Lorena Hickok, “Hick,” whose career as one of the nation’s top female reporters was destroyed by Hick’s becoming too emotionally attached to Eleanor to keep the objectivity needed in those days to be a reporter.

The end had to come and it did. In a bad way. Eleanor could be like that. No spoilers.

My Thoughts

At times the writing of this book was very odd. Here are just a few examples.

Eleanor had never made a plan for what she wanted as a wife, mother, and daughter-in-law, and her life had been unexpectedly difficult” (p. 16). Did women do this at the turn of the 20th century?

…the unthinkable death of an infant” (p. 19)  An infant dying in 1909 was a regular occurrence, regardless of class!

She joined the newly formed Junior League for rich women but did volunteer work in settlement houses” (p. 20) what an awkward sentence. And, she was a rich woman!

The author also falls into two traps that I do not like in modern history writing. First, she “supposes” what Eleanor, Nan, and Marion “might” have done in the evening or in the course of their day. That is not helpful. It’s like the fictionalized scenes in t.v.’s The Crown–it is wrong to invent scenes in a real life. Second, she nearly lets FDR’s story take over in a few places–not nearly as often as in similar books, but it is there. In any biography of Eleanor, FDR will naturally play a large role. But this book was about a slice of her life. Finding insufficiently detailed information on her topic, I feel she padded the book to get it to a respectable page count. Had she instead have dealt more with Todhunter School or with Vall-Kil Industries and the furniture, the book would have been a more authentic account of this interesting relationship and experiment. Instead, while interesting, it fell short.  While Arthurdale (see second review below) did have a tie-in to the relationship, other chapters truly did not.

The Three Graces of Va-Kill: Eleanor Roosevelt, Marion Dickerman, and Nancy Cook and in the Place They Made Their Own by Emily Herring Wilson

Eleanor’s Other Experiment in Living

51YZV4FHN6L._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_

Eleanor also championed progressive causes like resettling coal miners into new, purpose-built communities like West Virginia’s Arthurdale–which became a pet cause of hers. In addition to brand new homes, settlers had subsistence farm plots for “homesteading” and were to have employment in factories or industries brought in to serve the area. The children were given Nursery School and progressive education through high school in a new, modern school building. They received hot, nutritious lunches and had an inspiring curriculum. Sadly, the necessary industry never developed, and settlers, while in much nicer homes, were saved mostly by World War II.

This book, written for upper-level elementary school students does an excellent job of presenting the purpose and reality of Arthurdale.  Another WPA Homestead Community (there were several), Dyes Colony in Arkansas, “gave birth” to a little boy named J.R. who grew up to be singer Johnny Cash.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Arthurdale Experiment by Nancy Hoffman

Note: In the interest of fairness, I read this book in February but wanted to save the review to go with The Three Graces (above).

Both of these books were appropriate for both of these November reading challenges.

Uncategorized

Nonfiction November: Newest Nonfiction Additions to My TBR

 

Nonfiction can tell a story as rich and satisifying as the best novel. During Nonfiction November, we all fall in love with a few of our titles. Here are some that I’ve recently added to my TBR and hope to read in December or in 2021.

Nature

Nature’s Storyteller: The Life of Gene Stratton-Porter by Barbara Olenyik Morrow

Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan C. Slaght

Wintering: A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller

The Comstock’s of Cornell edited by Karen Penders St. Clair

History

In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters and the Price They Paid for Glory by Julia P. Gelardi.

The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons From World War to Cold War by David Nasaw

Empress Alexandra: The Special Relationship Between Russia’s Last Tsarina and Queen Victoria by Melanie Clegg

Red Famine: Stalin’s War On Ukraine by Anne Applebaum

One Third of a Nation: Lorena Hickok Reports on the Great Depression by Lorena Hickok

Windsor Diaries, 1940-45 by Alathea Fitzalan Howard. Link is to Amazon UK,

Food

Women in the Kitchen by Anne Willan

Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training… by Bill Buford

In the Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life by Yemisi Aribisala, Laura Freeman, Rebecca May Johnson, and Ella Risbridger . I am in LOVE with the cover!

Travel and Home

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain

Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us by Joel Kotkin

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

Social Justice

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White American by Michael Eric Dyson

Soul Full of Coal Dust by Chris Hamby

The Address Book by Deirdre Mask

And This One

The Diaries of Alan Rickman!! Read more here

Any new nonfiction on your TBR? Leave me a comment or a link to your post.

Uncategorized

Nonfiction November Review: Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

My Interest

I’m a woman.

The Story

If you are a woman you will read this book. Now, here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Doctors, aside from their gynecology and labor/delivery training, are trained on an “average” male body even though women’s heart attacks are very different.
  2. Drugs, with a few exceptions, have traditionally been tested on mostly male volunteers. Which explains why some do not do what they should for women
  3. City planners design spaces that all must live in, but that forget the needs of women and children for things like grocery stores and playgrounds.
  4. Transportation systems engineers design systems for men’s commute to work–not for women’s round-about trips to first check on Grandma, then drop the two stroller-bound toddlers at daycare and THEN go to work and then at the end of the day adding a stop to buy groceries before going to the daycare and the other Grandma’s house.
  5. Cars and airbags are designed for men. Pregnant women, who are naturally closer to the steering wheel? Never considered.
  6. Disaster relief teams, refugee camps, and similar forget that women menstruate, endure cultural shunning for being with men to whom they are not related, and often must give birth. Condoms, yes. Sanitary pads–no. Or worse, only tampons in spite of taboos restricting them to only married women.

The book shows all the ways that leaving women out of surveying, quantifying, and otherwise amassing information to inform decisions is costing us time, money, productivity, advancement, lives, and more. Just read it.

My Thoughts

There are so many more I won’t go on. Now, about the author. Yes, she is a strident left-wing feminist and yes the HRC person is mentioned more than one time. Ignore both and read the book. This book has been needed for so long! The distortions of data have cost women lives, dignity, safety, and opportunities–and that is being said by someone far to the right of the author. This book should be used in every course on quantitative research or similar. It is not a boring textbook. The author tells the story very well and illustrates it almost too well. This is one of the most interesting nonfiction books I’ve read in years. I do not agree with every single thing she says, but it was very interesting and thought-provoking. Just read it. Have I mentioned you should read it?

 

51lmeI-OD9L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_

Invisible  Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

Uncategorized

Nonfiction November Review: Those Wild Wyndhams: Three Sisters at the Heart of Power by Claudia Renton

My Interest

Any family and its group of friends that includes not one, but three private secretaries to the Queen, plus other notables grabs my attention every time. Through in a fabulous portrait by John Singer Sargent, stir in a descendant owning the fabled Island of Mustique and well, I just had to read it! I’m still wondering how I missed it when it came out.

The Story

Back in the “other” ’90s–the 1890s, the so-called Gilded Age and into the Edwardian era at the start of the 20th Century there was a group known in society as “The Souls.” Their children became “The Coterie,”  and after the First World War they morphed into “The Bright Young Things,” This is their story. The three Wyndham sisters, the men they married, the men they flirted with, the men they committed indiscretions with, the children the begot and the good works that they did are all here. But that makes it sound boring and it was anything but! Even I, who has a pretty fair grasp of the families involved, needed a family tree and photographic chart to keep them all strait while listening to the audio version.

The sitters of Sargent’s famous Wyndham sisters, Mary, Lady Elcho (later Countess of Wemyss), Madeline, Mrs. Charles Adeane, and Pamela, Mrs. Edward Tennant (later the Baroness Glenconner) were the three sisters at the heart of the”The Souls.” They sacrificed sons on the altar of the King and Empire in World War I. They had the ear of politicians of the day. Their descendants entertained or advised royalty.

The women themselves lived life under their own rules. One was tried and true to her husband, happy with him from day one. One adored being with her children. One was a writer. All managed to do what they wanted while managing the migrations of family from one house to the other, while having to constantly manage and recruit servants, and put up with husband’s whims and occasional disparagement.

My Thoughts

I have such a book hangover that I cannot do justice to this book in a review. The families are fascinating–some times in ways they shouldn’t be, but mostly in good ways. This was one of the most interesting collective biographies I’ve ever read. I am purchasing a copy so that I can keep it and possibly do a better job of sorting out the families! It is enough to say that from these women descended some fascinating men–sons and grandsons who made their own mark. Two rather notoriously, and one quietly, behind the scenes. I leave it to you to decide if they are enough proof of how fascinating these sisters were. I am only sorry that I let it languish on my TBR for so many years.

From Mary, Lady Elcho/Lady Wemyss came:

Queen Elizabeth II with her Private Secretary, Martin Charteris (later Baron Charteris of Amisfield), grandson of Mary Wyndham.

From Pamela came

the “Brightest” of The Bright Young Things, her son, Stephen Tennant (left) and his brother, David, who started a notorious debauched club in London. Her grandson, Colin, Lord Glenconner, owned Mustique island and was a close friend of Princess Margaret. You can read more about him in my post here.

Those Wild Wyndhams: Three Sisters at the Heart of Power by Claudia Renton

Uncategorized

Nonfiction November Re-run: Expert Recommendation of Royal Books Updated

41Hyg5+PKfL

I can’t top last year’s Nonfiction November “be an expert” post on royal books, so I’m updating it and linking to it!

First the updates:

The One Worth Reading

Meghan and Harry: The Real Story by Lady Colin Campbell. I go hot and cold on “Lady C” as she’s popularly known. She’s written some total crap, but also has gotten the story dead right before. So pick and chose as you read. She’s now and Youtube Royal sensation from this book–she does weekly videos on the royals (see the video at the end of this post).  This book rings very true. She does have excellent contacts and she can tell a story. If you’re going to read one Markle book let it be this one. It just irritates me that having been married for only about a year over 40 years ago she STILL uses her ex-husband’s courtesy title (he is styled Lord Colin because he is the son of a Duke). She was, therefore, “Lady” instead of Mrs. Like Markle should be just plain Princess Henry and not Duchess of anything).

The New Memoir

511IMep1soL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

The Windsor Diaries 1940-45 by Alathea Fitzalan Howard. UK readers can buy this–it won’t be out in the USA until May. I’m anxious to get my hands on it. This is the diary of a childhood/teenage years friend of the Queen. NOTE: The link is for UK Amazon.

The New Romanov Book

51pn4AiQMvL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_

Empress Alexandra by Melanie Clegg. My copy will be here later this week. Alexandra was, of course, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria–first cousin to King George V, great-aunt to Prince Philip, and aunt of Lord Mountbatten and Queen Louise of Sweden.

New Royal Books That Aren’t Terrible

41L30KimQUL

Prince Andrew, Epstein, Maxwell and The Palace by Nigel Cawthorne. I have not read it but it is seemingly well-researched. To date, Andrew has not been charged with anything other than being sleazy. At least at the time of the alleged encounter in the UK it was legal to take a 17- year-old to bed. Even slime mold deserves due process.

41XxbdX5tIL._SY346_

Prince Philip Revealed by Ingrid Seward. I just got this, but I’ll wager money the only thing revealed is that Seward, editor of Majesty Magazine is wanting a manuscript ready for the day Philip dies. It is also a lot easier to prepare this and slip in commentary on the Harry and Markle travesty than to write a book on them. If only Harry had listened to Philip. One less narcissist would have a role on the celebrity stage.

New Royal Books to Skip at All Costs

So bad I can’t even dignify them with a cover shot.

Finding Freedom by Meghan Markle, I MEAN by Obit Scooby-Doo-Doo-Doo and someone who wants to disassociate herself for this miscarriage of nonfiction. This books is part of the evidence in a court case that Markle will likely loose. It is soooooooooooo bad! If you are not a diabetic you will still want to acquire some insulin before you try to wade thru the sugary b.s. of the book.  Possibly the most self-adoring book ever published. There is very little truth in it. Even some of her most ardent fans saw through it. I absolutely refuse to provide a link to this horror.

Battle of the Brothers: William and Harry: The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult. by Robert Lacey: This once EXCELLENT royal author has sold his soul to Netflix for his spot as adviser on The Crown. Spoiler alert! Netflix is paying Harry and Markle to spill their secrets. This book is not worthy of him. It is a farce of Markle promotion that should never have been published. This is another one I refuse to link to. And, why? Why do people assume that brothers must love and adore each other just because their mother died? Silly. Even in believable books they sound like two very different personalities with some common pastimes like huntin’ shootin’ fishin’, polo, and video games, but beyond that they are very different men.

Read My Expert Recommendation of Royal Books here….

[click the text above to go to the list]

Uncategorized

German Literature Month Review: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, Translated by Jane Billinghurst

img_3300

My Interest

I enjoy a few nature books most years. This one caught my eye because my son works for a tree service and devoured our Audubon Field Guide to Trees of North America not long after he started work. I saw this book and decided to read it to see if it was worth giving his as an extra Christmas gift. It is among 2 or 3 contenders for that honor so there could be more tree book reviews later. My verdict is–I think he would read it. He isn’t a big reader but when it really interests him he will read. This is a nonfiction book and that would normally be ok with him only if it was about a rapper or maybe an artist.

My other interest was, by chance, seeing the word “fungi” in a quick look-through of the book. I am fascinated by mushrooms and forests teem with them. This part of the story, I thought, might be really interesting.

Thanks to blogger Lizzy’s Literary Life for bringing this gem to my attention. Why not be nice and click and read her review, too? Bloggers love visitors!

The Story

Forester Wohlleben loves trees. His life’s work is in a forest in Germany. He is a scientist so he pays very close attention to the details the trees in his forest. Happily, he is also a very good writer (and Billinghurst is a very good translator) so reading about such details is a joy and not a struggle. He makes the forest come as alive to the reader as it is to him. So, the fungi I was looking forward to were just icing on a very nice cake of a nature book.

What Wohleben describes is the lifespan of trees. Not as in 6th grade science class and ring-counting and all that, but about communities of trees, families of trees, the socio-economic strata of trees, the gentrification of forests, the urban decay of forests, the street kids, street gangs, and, cooperative development agencies of the forests–none of which are people. Wohleben’s study of trees has let him understand the language of trees–their interpersonal communication. He explains how the different players in the forest community fulfill their roles, putting it all into such expressive and readable prose that I read over 60 pages in one sitting.

Here are a few very short, illustrative glimpses into what Wohleben has discovered:

“Spruce store essential oils in their needles and, and bark, which act like antifreeze.”

“Then there are the weevils. They look a bit like tiny elephants that have lost their enormous ears.”

Here is a typical prose passage to give you a feel for the joy of reading this book:

“And what if an oak gets a deep wound or a wide crack in its trunk as a result of a lightening strike? That doesn’t matter to the oak, because its wood is permeated with substances that discourage fungi and severely slow down fungal decomposition…Even severely damaged trees with major branches broken off can grow replacement crows and live for a few hundred years longer” (p. 97, Kindle Edition).

Unexpectedly, I have a new possible favorite nonfiction book of the year. It was simply that good.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, Translated by Jane Billinghurst.

Added bonus: This book also works for Nonfiction November and Novellas in November (they include nonfiction novellas).  Though it is maybe a tad long for a true novella, it reads as quickly as one.

Uncategorized

Novellas in November: Nonfiction Novella: Review–The Runaway Amish: The Great Escape Girl by Emma Gingerich

5140XGOQh0L._SY346_

My Interest

I have long been fascinated by oppressive or cultist religion. For many years, on an old blog, I wrote about TV’s Duggar family and the cultish group to which they belong–The Institute of Basic Life Principles/Advanced Training Institute (IBLP/ATI). After Josh Duggar’s molestation of his sisters was finally admitted, I quit. Mission accomplished. The Amish, who surround me here in Southern Ohio, are an odd group. They have a unique status in American–they speak German, they do not assimilate in any way into the community, they have unique health problems–many of which can be traced to inbreeding, and they are exempt from Selective Service (registering for the draft) and from mandatory schooling until age 18. I haven’t looked this one up, but I do think child labor laws apply, or if they do then they are conveniently overlooked. They do not vote. They do, when necessary, take Medicaid and other assistance for disabled children. If they have a business, they pay taxes so I see nothing wrong with that.

Many idolize Amish culture as “a simple life.” It is–and it isn’t. The contradictions are endless. Different communities of Amish have different rules. Around here some wear Crocks or running shoes. Others have push-bikes (like a bike with a scooter platform). Some can have propane-powered appliances, propane generators to run computers and charge the cell phones they need for business. They can hire a driver. It is not unusual to see a horse and buggy at the local Walmart or Dollar General, either.

We also have a large Mennonite Church near here. If you live here it is soon obvious who is Amish, who is Mennonite even without cell phones, shoes or cars.

The Story

Emma grew up in a large Amish family. She was born here in Ohio in a hospital. Yes, Amish do use hospitals when “prudent”–they may even use “English” doctors if necessary. There are clinics across the border in Mexico that do a land-office business in Amish hysterectomies for cash, too. Anyway, Emma had questions almost from the start. The dangerous kind of questions for a child–especially a girl–in an extreme patriarchy. Those questions being with “Why do we ….” Like the Catholic priests used to say the answer was basically, “it’s a matter of faith.” Like most Amish children, she could not understand most of what was said in the hours-long Church services because it was spoken in an old dialect of German–not the German they used in everyday conversation.

When Emma turned 16 and a half she was expected to go to “signings” after church–aka the Amish marriage market. Amish dates go like this: Guy tells another guy he wants a date with a certain girl. The “matchmaker” [boy’s buddy] tells the girl. She agrees. She can’t really refuse. He drives her home in his buggy, sees to the horse, then climbs into bed with her. Nothing but kissing is supposed to happen.

About the time dating like this started Emma developed headaches. She was taken only to a chiropractor and herbalist and then to two different quack doctors. She knew she was not made for Amish life. Imagine being 12 or 13 and expected to take over for the mother of a large family for one or two weeks–all on your own! That’s what Emma had to do. This taught her she was not made for that kind of life. Eventually, as the title suggests, she found a way out. By this time her family lived in Missouri and earned money weaving baskets. She was a good enough daughter that she worried the business would die without her hard work. She also protected her siblings from possible abuse by not sharing all of her plans.

My Thoughts

What Emma did takes a lot of courage. She left EVERYTHING to find the life that let her breathe free and be happy. She did not take the step lightly, nor did she do it to hurt anyone. She knew it was not the life for her. That she continued to care and connect with her family no matter what shows her true feelings for them. Like most who have been too sheltered, she went through true times of trial, but she stood up to those trials. I applaud her.

Other Amish books I’ve reviewed:

Why I Left the Amish by Saoma Miller Furlong

Reading Amish and More… a post on Amish books and other items.

Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simple, More Sustainable Life

I’ve read countless others since 1983 when I read the first book.

Uncategorized

Nonfiction November Review: Hill Women by Cassie Chambers

My Interest

nonficnov2020-998x1024

A few miles down the road at the Adams County, Ohio, line, is the start of Appalachia. I did not grow up here, but landed here through a series of events related to trying to rent a house with 4 cats! Plus, my mother retired here in the same neighborhood with my brother’s in-laws. I live surrounded by Appalachia or people who grew up there. In my former job, in Louisville, I worked with staff, lawyers, and librarians who grew up in Eastern Kentucky and did not view it as “making it out” in the way many outsiders do. Some had had help from  Berea or Alice Lloyd College. Others had National Merit Scholarships or income-based free rides to state colleges. They were not ashamed of these roots–nor should they be. Unless you are from there or are very close to someone who is, it can see like the back side of nowhere. In many ways, it is. But in all the ways that matter, that view is wrong. An often staggering work ethic, family and community loyalty, preservation of historic ways of working, of cooking, of surviving, and of speaking are all part of it.

The Story

Cassie Chambers was born while her parents were students at one of America’s few remaining “work-study” colleges, Berea College in Kentucky. They came from Eastern Kentucky [historically it was Western Virginia] where there are coal mountains, the farms that gave definition to the overused word “hardscrabble” and a lot of “outdoors.” Moonshine comes to mind to those not from there (as well as to those who are but with a different view). It’s soup beans, cornbread and home canned vegetables for many meals, it is summers working tobacco, and butchering a hog in the fall. Cassie’s mother grew up in exactly that life with hardworking, but to the rest of America “uneducated” parents in Owsley County. This was the type place that introduced Jack and Bobby Kennedy to the meaning of “poverty.”

Orlando and Wilma Chambers wanted more for their only child. While Cassie went thru the public schools in Berea and her father rose to have a PhD in Agricultural Economics, even they did not truly envision the height to which their daughter would climb. Like the future Queen of the Netherlands, (attended the branch in China) like two of Lord Mountbatten’s grandchildren (attended the UK branch), like the heir to the former Greek throne and many others, Cassie got accepted to the United World College of the U.S.A.–one of the schools that, like Outward Bound, grew out of Salem and Gordonstoun–the schools Prince Philip attended. Princes Charles, Andrew, and Edward and host of other semi-royals attended Gordonstoun, too.

DJI_0421-HDRPhoto: Dan Rose [if this is incorrect please I will be happy to correct it]

United World College U.S.A. in New Mexico

The name says it all–United World College. Cassie landed in this rarefied atmosphere for the two year stint that sets up students regardless of income from all over the world and prepares them for and connects them with the world’s most competitive colleges–or as close as possible to them. I once went on a job interview to a small college in Pennsylvania. My student driver was shocked that I’d  heard of this school–his Alma Mater. His mother sold vegetables in a Kenyan market. It takes you places just like Berea College took her parents places–only even father. Cassie stuck it out and “made it.” Better yet, she decided home had a lot to give her as well and now helps all sorts of women there.

1200px-Map_of_Kentucky_highlighting_Owsley_County.svg

Map of Kentucky showing Owsley County

The real stars of this book though are her Aunt Ruth and her Granny. These women worked harder than the hardest working men all their lives. The farmed tobacco. While the world looks down on that now the truth is there are few crops worldwide that have ever had the income potential for small farmers in the USA or in Malawi or other nations that burly tobacco has. These women, who for a variety of reasons, didn’t finish elementary or high school, coped with life in the way the matriarchs of history have always done. They just got up and did it. They shared what they had. They went without, but they got on with it.

They managed to convince Wilma, Cassie’s mother, to graduate from high school, and to go on get her degree. [Eventually Aunt Ruth got a GED–in almost record time, too.] Unlike in Hillbilly Elegy (the dysfunctional family portrait of the region) the men in Cassie’s family worked. They worked that farm. They worked later at other types of jobs. The provided for their family. The, like many in the region even today, would not accept handouts or charity. Their pride was everything.

Perhaps my favorite story was when she asks her Aunt Ruth about the word “hillbilly.” “I suppose so,” [or similar–I had the audio version] she says when Cassie asks if she is one. It is acknowledged that is ok for someone from there to use it. “Redneck” is one term they do not like. There are people all around my area who feel the same way. It can be a term of respect in its way; most often it is a racial slur. Twenty years ago, I would never have looked at the semantics of this. Today, it seems right to stop saying that word. I am Scotch-Irish, just like Cassie’s family. That group came to the Midwest through Virginia. Mine took a detour to Australia, but it is still the same group of people from whom I descend. My family just moved a lot faster.

My Thoughts

Cassie made me very angry when she dared to apply today’s woke view of older man/younger women relationships. Yes, TODAY, it would not happen for a 15 year old to date a man 32. But in that time he was well-known in the community, was a very hard worker, was not violent and she had left school and was ready to do what most young women did then–marry and have children. Cassie’s shrillness on this was unnecessary. Her grandfather was a good man, a good husband and a good provider. Her grandmother did not appear to have regrets. So leave it be.

I also skipped past the parts on Trump being elected. I’m not a supporter of his, but this week I could not handle any more moaning about him. The book was written not long after his election. This week he appears to have lost his bid for re-election.

She made me proud, too. She took her boyfriend home to have dinner with the family. It wasn’t easy–she was college girl at one of the world’s leading colleges. Dinner in a trailer isn’t what is done there. I found her embarrassment at her relatives manners and even, in other scenes of that era of her parents’ ways to be typical of her age. I was happy that she could reflect on it and be glad she did it. Something in her told her she needed their blessing. Thank goodness, too.

Otherwise, I quite admired her for her grit and determination. Academically she went form an average high school in a peripherally below-average education state to Universities that regularly deny entry to the graduates of Choate, Groton, Eton, and Harrow–the schools that regularly create Presidents and Prime Ministers.

I admire, too, the passion she brings to her work helping poor women. She does not talk down to them–she understands them. She exposes the Kentucky court system for what it is. The laws are stacked against them in family court, especially. In time, perhaps letting in light on that rot, will give rise to a thorough cleaning of the system. I hope so.

Today Cassie is happily married with a son, lives in Louisville. She is active in politics and has taught in the law school at the University of Louisville. She seems like someone I would have liked to work for in a law firm.

41+aN7ZbS9L._SY346_

A final note. Only a publishing intern straight Manhattan (and I don’t mean Kansas) would compare this story with Educated. Let’s remember that Cassie grew up in a town (Berea), with two educated parents, attended public schools, went to the doctor, and had normal experiences. In no way does that compare to Educated. Even her mother’s story still centers on public school, a doctor’s help, and a college education. Someone made a silly marketing decision with that choice.

Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains by Cassie Chambers.

My friend Susan at Girls In White Dresses offers a more conservative take on the book here.

Uncategorized

Nonfiction November Review: The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky

Happy Nonfiction November everyone!

My Interest

The subtitles says it all for me: A portrait of American food from the lost WPA files. In the Great Depression the Works Progress Administration, a jewel in the crown of FDR’s New Deal, gave work to my paternal great-uncles that involved big, heavy shovels, and gave work to all sorts of other outside the skilled trades. These included artists and writers. The Federal Writer’s Project, best remembered for the outstanding Baedeker-type guides to each of the then 48 states. Among the writers employed by the project were Saul Bellow, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, and John Cheever among many others. Author Zora Neal Hurston,  in the Florida office, was given only a lowly interviewers position due to the state’s horrific racism and entrenched segregation.

The Story

First, a little history.

This book, pulled together from the files of the Federal Writer’s Project is drawn from the manuscripts, such as they were, being developed at the time the Project ended for World War II. It is very much a document of it’s time, full of distasteful racial stereotypes in the discussion of Black cooking and Native American diets. The author does an excellent job of explaining why, uncomfortable though it may make the reader (parts were cringe-inducing as an audio), keeping to the original language of the author’s was essential both to see it through their eyes and to show us how hard those times were for various racial or ethnic groups. Remember, lynching was a huge problem in the 1930s. The 1920s featured a huge KKK revival that overtook my own home state, Indiana [I live in Ohio now–not much difference in Southern Ohio]. While FDR is remembered as a liberal, it is worth recalling that he was cowardly or practical (depending on your opinion) in not pushing for the anti-lynching bill needed, but left that to Eleanor and a few trusted assistants. Remember, too, that at the start of Social Security, domestics and  farm workers were excluded–no need to spell out their races, is there?

Now the food.

About as Midwestern a meal as you could hope to find. Served on the dishes of my childhood, too! Photo source.

I normally read a few “foodie” books each year. This year I did read the humorously titled How to Cook Your Husband the African Way, otherwise I haven’t read any foodies this year. Reading about the food of each American region back in the time my grandmothers were young wives and mothers really sounded good to me. My Dad often recalled having popcorn with cream and sugar as breakfast cereal. The year he was born his family lived largely on apples and Cream of Wheat–or so he and his aunt both told me. That aunt found work as a “hired girl” on a farm cooking and cleaning alongside the farmer’s wife. That family became her lifelong friends and my Dad’s godparents. Very different from the life of most Black domestics of the era.

Texas BBQ Photo source: Eater. Com

As the book journeys around the country we hear of dishes both familiar and forgotten. I wonder if anyone still makes Brunswick Stew or Burgoo with squirrel? Possum roast, anyone? How about fried beaver tail? No? The best by far was learning of the existence of the Geoduck clam–pronounced “Gooey Duck” which I wouldn’t introduce to a junior high school class for any amount of money. See why here.

The few exotics aside, most of the food is still here today: Fried chicken, hunks of beef or pork, fish and seafood on the coasts, as well as all the different styles of barbecue and and baked beans or clam chowder, corn bread or pancake-style treats. Coleslaw, green beans cooked with ham or bacon, hot salad of “wilted” greens, fish, stews and even health food fads are all still here.  Some even still eat Lutefisk!

Still here are many of the traditional fundraising dinners–the Struts, the fish fries, the sugaring-offs and the others. Who could have guessed back then that the children in Washington state, given homemade hot lunches that sometimes were only hot cocoa, would today get two meals at school and sometimes a package of weekend food? While there is an overwhelming sameness in the chain restaurants of today, chefs have rediscovered regional and seasonal cooking to the benefit of us all. Farmer’s markets and CSA [Consumer Supported Agriculture] produce subscription services help us all to rediscover how to eat where we live.

idaho-location-on-the-us-map-min

The two things I found most interesting were the Basque culture in Idaho–the sheep farmers of the region. Mutton and lamb are not big selling meats where I live, except at 4-H lamb auction time. (In fact, the book points out, that they weren’t / aren’t big anywhere except Idaho and New York City). But the Basque’s brought sheep farming to that region and their influence was still there 50 years after the book when I visited that part of Idaho two summers in a row. Like the Portuguese in Connecticut and Rhode Island, the French Quebecois in Maine, this is an unexpected and interesting addition to our melting pot of American culture.

149ec6aecf78d748513f15347897e5ce

Automat

By far my favorite chapter of the book was on New York–specifically on that now-vanished New York institution, the automat. Growing up in “diner-land” in the Midwest, we did not have these. I learned of them in old movies like Cary Grant and Doris Day’s wonderful film, That Touch of Mink (see the bottom of this post).  I dreamed of visiting one for years. Imagine–put in nickles and get a chicken pot pie, move along, put in more nickles, pullout jello!

Plate of Pudding with Whipped Cream

Photo: Seasonal Eating [blog]

But for the life of me, I’ve never, ever heard of an Indiana Pork Cake! Wow–that one came right out of midair. Probably the writer heard about it from a neighbor and thought it would be a good human interest story. Imagine baking a cake today with intentionally fatty ground pork? At least they included Hoosier Persimmon Pudding. There is nothing as wonderful in the late fall as a homemade persimmon pudding–especially when the persimmons were grow in your best friend’s parents yard and the recipe is from her sister. Delicious!

Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky

Uncategorized

Novellas in November? Nonfiction November? Both?

Two great reading events just in time for my long Thanksgiving to New Year’s break! I’m back in graduate school for one year doing a certificate for my job and it has taken up most of my reading time since late August. It will be a relief to be able read what I want. I already signed up for German Lit Month, but have gotten nowhere with that one. Maybe I can find a short novel in translation and get a “two for” out of it? I do that. It’s all just for fun.

novellas-in-november-2020-feature-image-small-1

Novellas in November (Cathy) or Novellas in November (Rebecca) is new-to-me, but sounds perfect for the fiction I will read in November. Here’s their weekly theme schedule, if you want to play along. The theme starts on Monday.

2–8 November: Contemporary fiction (Cathy)

9–15 November: Nonfiction novellas (Rebecca)

16–22 November: Literature in translation (Cathy)

23–29 November: Short classics (Rebecca)

#NovNov

 

Nonfiction November is perfect, too, for the stack of new nonfiction titles I’ve recently bought. Katie @ Doing Dewey, Julie @ Julz Reads, Leann @ Shelf Aware, and Rennie @ What’s NonFiction? are hosting this nonfiction reading challenge. (There is also a Goodreads Group with the same title,)

Here is their weekly theme schedule:

Week 1: (November 2-6) – Your Year in Nonfiction

The first week you may write a post about the nonfiction you’ve read so far this year.

My 2019 Year in Nonfiction post.

Week 2: (November 9-13) -Book Pairing (nonfiction to fiction)

Curious?

2019 Pairings post.

Week 3: (November 16-20) –Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert

Not sure about this one? Here’s my post from last year to give you an idea.

Expert Recommendations of Royal Books

Week 4: (November 23-27) –New to My TBR

If you are new to the world of reading challenges, TBR just means your “To Be Read” list/pile/shelf.

2019 New to My TBR

#NonficNov

img_3300

Remember, November is also German Literature Month! My announcement post is here.

#germanlitmonth

But wait! There’s more! It’s also Aus Reading Month! Post coming later this week!

Will you be joining in? Leave me a comment and tell me your plans!