I decided to wait until the end of the month when I spent some time in the cool joy known as Mt. Lemmon, to read my two books this month: an Oprah Book Club selection and a book of social science. I was somewhat concerned about both of these topics. I have definitely read more than my fair share of Oprah Book Club titles. In fact, I actually once asked for a book recommendation that specifically was not an Oprah Book Club book, because I just didn't want to cry while reading any more. When her book club started, every book that was selected had terrifically detailed and nuanced characters. But all of them were in a terrible situation of one sort or another - death, illness (mental or physical), prison, poverty, crime - you name it these books had it, with the attending drama that comes with the grittier side of our society. While I do enjoy reading these kinds of books, I think I had hit my limit during my mid-twenties.
With trepidation, I tried The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. I know that when Oprah renewed her book club, there was a change of focus. However, this one fell right into the mode of descriptive characters living a hard life. If you want to read about addictions, abuse, hiding one's sexuality in the closet, death of young children because of poverty, unhappy marriages, a racist society telling people they aren't good enough, then this is the book for you. If this feels a little bit heavy for you, maybe try something else.
I was also a bit nervous about reading a book of social science. That just seemed like too academic of a topic, and I tend to like my nonfiction on the quirkier side. No worries there - I actually read two books for this topic and had a lot more I was interested in reading (thank you Read Harder for making my to-read list even longer). I waited many months for Nomadland - I had noticed this book in the Weekly Waitlist and thought it looked intriguing so was excited to see it fit in this topic. While the "crisis" part of the 2008 financial meltdown might be over, the after-effects are still being felt. There are many folks out there who are of typical retirement age driving around in rv's working temporary jobs. While they look like retired snowbirds, in actuality, they are often living right on the edge - the rv is the only home that they have. The author, Jessica Bruder, expanded a magazine article she wrote about this topic and spent various time over the course of three years living and working with these folks - joining in their community and seeing what their lives are all about. My only complaint is that I don't think she spent enough time working the jobs. When Barbara Ehrenreich wrote Nickel and Dimed, a number of people complained that she always knew she would go back to her more comfortable middle-class existence so it wasn't the true fear of feeling like she wasn't going to make it. In my mind, at least she spent 30 days finding a place to live, getting hired and working the job. Sometimes, Ms. Bruder only worked one or two days on the job before quitting. I'm not saying these were easy jobs, they weren't. I don't know if she would have had any greater insights if she had continued to work for more time, or if it just would have been more strained muscles. But 30 days is a lot more than two days.
The other quirky social science book I enjoyed was From Here to Eternity - a search for how death is viewed from other cultures as well as the end of the spectrum here in the U.S. The author, Caitlin Doughty, is a mortician, so death is a topic near and dear to her heart. Even though she works in the U.S., she is not fond of what the funeral industry has turned into, and does think there are alternative practices worth investigating. Which is what this book digs into - from rural Indonesia to Bolivia to Mexico and a few places in the U.S. doing a variety of green burials you can find a variety of ways to honor your loved ones who have passed. If you're a fan of Stiff's author Mary Roach, I think you would enjoy this as well.
Karen for Ravenous Readers