Category Archives: Book review

Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth by Holger Hoock – review

Scars of Independence: America's Violent BirthScars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth by Holger Hoock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got a pre-publication look at this through NetGalley.

War is hell, brutal, uncivilized. Humans, despite sometimes semi-rational brains, are too near to their evolutionary roots to be anything on the average but violent creatures. No manner of romanticizing can change that. The American Revolution has been washed, sanitized, mythologized, simplified…glorified through deliberate omission and revision and far too many people have no clue that they have been fed a pack of partial truths at best.

Mr. Hoock claims in the second sentence of his Preface that his is the “first book … to adopt violence as a central analytical and narrative focus.” I don’t know if that is true, but I do think that it may be the first to aggregate the knowledge. Some of this I knew from other readings. Some, while clearly not specific, can be inferred from any study of war and violence. To think that the British were any different than any other power suppressing an insurrection would buy into a sadly persistent myth of the civilized benevolence of the great British (or other, whether European or not) Empire. To think that the Revolutionaries, angry and feeling disenfranchised (evidence the stunning lack of reason that precipitated 2016), would revolt politely and orderly would buy into that romantic portrayal found in The American Pageant, Land of Promise, Triumph of the American Nation and their kind.

So what Hoock does is remove the curtain…expose the truths, as documented…offer logical supposition (and qualify them as such) where documents are scant or untrustworthy. This is not your grandfather’s history…but it was your great times maybe eight grandfather’s. Well researched. Well written.

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance – review

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two people in two weeks urged me to read this, ostensibly to help me understand how an entire demographic could vote against its own interests, and maybe how the horror of 2016 could have come about. It accomplished neither. There’s a story here that is hard and not hard to relate to. On the one hand, as I am not from Appalachia (or where the transplants landed) I will never understand that which is Appalachia, that which Vance describes.

This may well be true, but on the other hand, I grew up in a similar small town in Connecticut… It really wasn’t until I left that I realized how close to the poverty line we lived; hand-me-downs, hand-made clothes, Spam as a main dish… And I married someone whose family came from Kentucky (and where grew up quite close to Vance’s Middletown, Ohio). I recall visiting relatives in Ocala in the late 1960s who still had an outhouse. And I know well the “Mamaw” and “Papaw” grandparents of Vance, though my wife’s did not use the colorful language of Vance’s Mamaw.

Where it is hard to relate is that I have never understood the provincial mindset, the allegiance to “roots”. I have never understood regional loyalties, the “Southern way”, hollers or kin. Once I left Connecticut, I had no intention of going back. The limits were suffocating, though I only felt them after I left, when I realized there was a much bigger world than our 1968 Encyclopedia Britannica (I have no idea how much debt my parents incurred to give us that incredible resource) shared with me.

So, this book paints a picture. A specific autobiographical picture, which should not be construed as indicative of all “hillbillies”, but with commonalities too many can identify with. It did not explain to me why the people described would vote for people who are clearly intuitively obvious to the most casual observer not representing them. The distinct lack of critical thinking does not mean lack of intelligence. But Vance himself notes how people refuse to believe the truth, or worse, believe untruths despite being shown the truth, and I can’t abide willful ignorance.

Maybe this was too close for comfort. Too real. Memories of a distanced family. Memories of a small town life consciously, and with deliberate intent, left behind long ago. But I have always held that it is a moral imperative to improve oneself – if not one’s lot in life, then at least intellectually – in spite of one’s environment. Vance made something of himself. This is good. But he admits to heroes that tells me he stopped short.

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In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs by Andrew Blauner – review

In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles SongsIn Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs by Andrew Blauner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It would be hard for me to not like this book. Beatles? Oh, yeah. I was pleased to get an advance read courtesy of First to Read.

The concept is simple: Ask writers to write about their favorite Beatles songs, tell stories of what the songs mean to them, the how and why of it all.

The responses are fascinating to me…some personal, some expository. More than a couple of things were new… composition, group politics, life events…and I’ve read a bit on the Beatles. Not surprisingly, a few tidbits were in conflict with knowledge from other sources, but that made this all the more interesting.

I don’t have a “favorite” Beatles song, nor even a favorite album or creative period. I do have a few dislikes, but even John, Paul, George and Ringo disliked some of their works. This book prompted me to reflect on how I would answer that question. And to go through the catalog again.

And again and again, because…the Beatles!

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Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast: Reflections on Fatherhood by Matteo Bussola

Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast: Reflections on FatherhoodSleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast: Reflections on Fatherhood by Matteo Bussola

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m so glad NetGalley made this English translation of Bussola’s original Italian available for an early read!

Delightful. Poignant. Real. Funny. Vulnerable. Human.

I could stop there, but that would do this a disservice. I understand that the stories in here are from Bussola’s Facebook posts about his life with three daughters and being a father. They are brilliant, heartwarming, candid…okay, more adjectives… Here’s a snippet, from when his six year old was asking how someone blind could love (there’s more to the story…):

“So love is like music, Daddy?”
“Sort of, yes. But you can’t feel it through your ears.”
“Well, how then?”
“Well, through everything. Even your nose. Yours Hands. Your feet.”
“No way! How can you feel it with your feet?”
“I’ll give you an example. You know hat girlfriends do to their boyfriends, to test whether they really love them? Your mom always did it to me.”
“What?”
“At the beginning, when I used to go to her house, or she would come to mine, and she slept over, your mom would always put her freezing feet on my back or my legs.”
“And what did you do?”
“I left them there and warmed them.”
“But didn’t they make you really cold?”
“A little, sure.”
“So when Mommy put her feet on you, you heard music, Daddy?”
“Always.”

Enjoy this.

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