Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Reminder: Main Library July Not Fiction Book Discussion date

Just a friendly reminder that the July Main Library Not Fiction Book Discussion of The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar will be Tuesday, July 11, at 6:30 p.m.. All Charleston County Public Library branches will be closed for the July 4 holiday.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Readalikes: If you enjoyed June's selection . . .

If you enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance, then you might also like these books suggested our discussion group members:

  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs
  • Dreams from My Father: A Memoir of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
  • Coal Miner's Daughter by Loretta Lynn
  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
  • Son of a Gun: A Memoir by Justin St. Germain
  • Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III

And by The Booklist Reader reviewer Karen Kleckner Keefe in her article Pride and Poverty: Beyond Hillbilly Elegy:

  • All Over But the Shoutin‘ by Rick Bragg
  • Belonging: A Culture of Place by bel hooks
  • Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.—How the Working Poor Became Big Business by Gary Rivlin
  • Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray
  • Creeker: A Woman’s Journey by Linda Scott DeRosier
  • Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War by Joe Bageant
  • The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado
  • Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City by Javier Auyero
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee
  • The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in Boom-Time America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home by Chris Offutt
  • Poor People by William T. Vollmann
  • Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
  • Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington
  • $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer
  • White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
  • The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

June's Not Fiction Book Discussions

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance explores the culture of white, working class, Scots-Irish Greater Appalachia--"hillbilly" culture--as both a physical and a psychosocial place. Vance, who grew up in Kentucky and Ohio in the 1980s and 90s, overcame a childhood of poverty and familial instability, becoming a Marine and eventually graduating from Yale Law School. He found himself wondering why there weren't more people like him at places like Yale, people from working-class backgrounds living the American Dream of an upwardly mobile life. What he discovered is a region and a culture in crisis as manufacturing jobs that provided a living wage become harder and harder to find. Vance told Isaac Chotiner of Slate, "This macroeconomic thing was happening but there was also this cultural and communal disconnect that was happening. To understand the problem you had to understand both sides of it." And so he wrote Hillbilly Elegy as a memoir to show "what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. It's about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It's about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it." What he found is a socially and culturally isolated group that demonstrates a "learned helplessness," an "emotional poverty" that increasingly looks like despair. Vance asks an essential question of "hillbillies like me," and, by implication, of American culture at large: "How much of our lives, good and bad, should we credit to our personal decisions, and how much is just the inheritance of our culture, our families, and our parents who have failed their children? . . . Where does blame stop and sympathy begin?"

What do you think? To what combination of causes does Vance attribute the crisis he sees in his community? How do the people in Vance's life demonstrate both learned helplessness and personal responsibility? What are the positive values of hillbilly culture? To what does Vance attribute his escape from the cycle of poverty, addiction, and violence in which many people in his family and community are trapped? Why is he uneasy with his own rapid upward mobility? Does he seem to make an emotional journey out of his own anger and confusion along with his physical journey out of Appalachia? What does Hillbilly Elegy add to the national conversation about poverty and its related socio-cultural problems? To the current political conversation? Does it suggest any solutions? Does Vance seem to be more liberal, conservative, libertarian, or some other slant entirely in his social and political views? If your life experiences, cultural background, and social and political views differ from Vance's, did you find Hillbilly Elegy difficult and/or enlightening to read?

For more insight into Hillbilly Elegy, read Compassion, and Criticism, for the White Working Class: A conversation with Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, an interview at Slate with Isaac Chotiner.

We hope you will join the discussion: Tuesday, June 6, at 6:30 p.m. at Main Library; Thursday, June 15, at 11:00 a.m. at West Ashley Branch Library; and here on the blog.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Readalikes: If you enjoyed May's selection . . .

If you enjoyed Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride, then you might also like these suggestions from our discussion group members:

  • Muscle Shoals directed by Greg "Freddy" Camalier
  • American Epic 3-part PBS television series about how ordinary American people were given the opportunity in the 1920s to make records, resulting in the preservation of American music folkways.
  • Ray directed by Taylor Hackford, with Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  • Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan
  • The Water Is Wide by Pat Conroy and the film version Conrack

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

May's Not Fiction Book Discussions

Kill 'Em And Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride explores how the American South and the music industry shaped James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, and how Brown, a one-of-a-kind musician, performer, and self-made man, shaped American culture.

McBride, author of the modern classic memoir The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother, and an accomplished musician, hit the road to follow up on a lead that promised to reveal James Brown the man who had been hidden for all these years behind James Brown the myth. With a writing style and attitude reminiscent of tall tales and the funk music Brown helped to create, McBride follows this lead to disparate corners of American history and culture, exploring tensions between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. He says "Brown was a child of a country in hiding: America's South. . . . You cannot understand Brown without understanding that the land that produced him is a land of masks."

What do you think? Who was James Brown? How did his childhood in rural South Carolina help to shape the person he became--his music, his work ethic, his relationships? How did his experiences out in the larger cultural landscape of midcentury America continue his evolution--or, arguably, devolution? And how did Brown shape American culture, musically, politically, and otherwise? In the spirit of the tall tale, McBride incorporates his own experiences with Brown and his myth, from his own childhood in Queens to his career as a writer, musician, and mentor to inner city youth. How did McBride's experiences also help you to understand Brown and American culture?

Remind yourself of James Brown's magnetic charisma, knock-out musical and dancing talent, and tremendous work ethic at the YouTube Official James Brown Channel!

We hope you will join the discussion: Tuesday, May 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Main Library; Thursday, May 18, at 11:00 a.m. at West Ashley Branch Library; and here on the blog.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Readalikes: If you enjoyed April's selection . . .

If you enjoyed Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, then you might also like these books suggested by our discussion group members:

  • Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
  • Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs
  • Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy by Thomas Sowell

Monday, April 3, 2017

April's Not Fiction Book Discussions

The phrase "there's no place like home" can be read in two ways. The most common reading is positive, with the suggestion that home is the most satisfying place to be. However, one could also understand the phrase to suggest that there is no place to be found that feels like home.  Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond  follows eight families in Milwaukee, WI, as they look for a place to call home and the obstacles they encounter along the way.

Desmond, a Harvard sociologist and MacArthur Genius grant recipient, spent time living in a trailer park where tenants were threatened with a mass eviction due to livability issues and in a rooming house in an urban neighborhood. He interviewed and observed the tenants and their landlords, as well as city and court officials, interweaving his own ethnographic research with statistics and studies of poverty in America. Desmond told Gillian B. White at The Atlantic,
I wanted to try to write a different poverty book, to focus on not just a place or a group of people, but a set of relationships. I thought eviction was the best way to do that. It brings landlords and judges and tenants together in this process that you can follow over time. I realized not only that we had overlooked this very central aspect of poverty, but eviction was coursing through the American city and acting as a cause, not just a condition of poverty.
Although eviction is the main topic Desmond explores, he shows us through the stories he tells that the lack of affordable housing intersects with many other social issues, such as parenting, education, employment, and addiction, as well as with race and gender. Desmond shows us with remarkable concision and empathy that these relationships are complicated.

What do you think? It is easy to judge people who get evicted as the victims of nothing but their own poor decisions. Did you feel this way before reading Evicted? Has your opinion changed after reading the book? How? Desmond uses storytelling to help us understand the larger issue of poverty and eviction. Whose story were you most drawn to and why? How do you see other social issues interacting with the lack of affordable housing in these people's lives? What responsibilities do you think landlords should have when renting their property? What risks do they take? Are profits justified in the private rental market when there is a significant lack of affordable housing? In his Epilogue, Desmond proposes solutions to the suffering caused by eviction. Do you believe that his solutions would work? Why or why not? Do you believe, as Desmond does, that access to a decent home is a basic human right? Did reading Evicted inspire you to want to help others in positions similar to those of the people in the book? If so, what do you think would help and how do you plan to get involved?

We hope you will join the discussion: Tuesday, April 4, at 6:30 p.m. at Main Library; Thursday, April 20, at 11:00 a.m. at West Ashley Branch Library; and here on the blog.