Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope – book review

No matter what you read lately, whether it’s political, economic, or even comedy relief, the concept of a national divide keeps popping up. It seems there is nothing that we’re not crabby about – which song got the Grammy, whether poodles are better than dalmatians, whether corn counts as a vegetable or a starch. Umpteen books have been written on the divide of “liberal” vs. “conservative,” urban vs. rural, prosperity vs. lazy poor, criminal drug abuser vs. victim of Big Pharma, and into that mix Nicholas Kristof throws out an excellent one, called Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.

Kristof grew up in rural Yamhill, Oregon, a White, conservative town of 1100 people. More than a quarter of the kids he went to school with died of drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents caused by drugs or alcohol. Why did he make it out in one piece, while his friends died slowly of alcoholism, often homeless most of their lives? Why did families lose 3, 4, 5 kids to drugs and alcohol? Why did some do fine?

To keep it real, Kristof explores people in similar situations in places like South Dakota, Oklahoma, New York City, Baltimore, and more, bastions of poverty and drugs in the U.S. What he finds is the same issues, handled differently – humanely – makes a world of difference. In places like Oklahoma, the entire penal code is stacked against poor people. Indigent and need a free legal defender? You are then arrested for being indigent, and fined for your arrest. Now you’re in debt to the state. So you are sent to prison for being a debtor – even if it’s only ONE dollar! Now you have more fines added. People are released from prison – private, for-profit prisons, of course – with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines from a mere $25 parking ticket. Can’t make the payments on your fines? Back to jail, and more fines. It’s a gerbil wheel of punishing the poor – even though intervention programs can save $10 of tax money for every dollar spent.

And of course, once you have a felony conviction, you can’t get a job. So people turn to selling meth and heroin. And get convicted, and can’t get hired, and get homeless and depressed and turn to drugs…. Over and over and over. Why are Mexicans taking the jobs from under-educated poor white people? Because the Mexicans can be counted on to show up for work, and aren’t drunk or stoned.

Kristof narrows the biggest issues down to two: One is education. Most of the people he knew didn’t graduate, had parents that barely made it to 8th grade, and grandparents who might not have made it to fifth. If you come from a home where there are no books, no magazines, and no expectations of further education, it’s harder to succeed. He explores one family where the mother had a 5th-grade education, and five children by four different fathers. When the first was expelled from kindergarten twice for behavioral issues, she – with a fifth-grade education – decided to home-school her kids (5 under the age of 6). How much of a chance do those kids have?

The second predictor of success was coming from a two-parent home. If you had two parents – and usually two incomes – you had a much greater chance of being successful. Single mothers with a trail of children left those kids in chaos. More than one child entering Yamhill kindergarten was described as “feral.”

Kristof also explores the programs – often started by those who had had enough – that give people just the right boost, whether it’s paying those $1 legal fees and freeing people from prison or getting them a job or housing or a drug treatment program. Such programs are a lifeline for the people involved, and often get them on the track to permanent success. Unfortunately, many of the government programs to do just that have been eliminated in recent years.

The book is easy to read, informative, and does not preach or even really point fingers. It’s careful to present only facts, though the family situations and the culture of violence surrounding them can be maddening. Despite the grim realities, the book ends up on a positive note. This is one to put on your To Be Read list, and check out these other titles in similar vein:


Hillbilly Elegy
The Left Behind
Evicted
White Trash
Dimestore
Dreamland
Chasing the Scream
Detroit
Broke, USA
Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America
Survival Math
Nickel and Dimed

 

A Librarian’s Guide to “Longform” Reading

Long-form journalism is a branch of journalism dedicated to longer articles with larger amounts of content. Typically this will be between 1,000 and 20,000 words. Long-form articles often take the form of creative nonfiction or narrative journalism

Publications such as Reader’s Digest, The Atlantic, and Harper’s Bazaar popularized this format of writing, which led to the founding of several new long form coverage companies such as The Atavist and Longreads. These articles tend to be categorized as “non-fiction” with a majority of the titles falling into human interest or think piece articles on a specific topic. These topics cover a broad range of subjects, including but not limited to: crime, art’s and culture, books, business and tech, current events, essays and criticism, food, profiles and interviews, science and nature, and sports.  Much like a non-fiction book, these articles are long enough to really develop a story, and inform you on topics you may not know much about. Personally, this is my favorite part about reading longform. These articles help you learn more about a topic, without overwhelming you with becoming an expert. They also give you a view into a strangers lifestyle, ideas or hobbies, which is one of the many reasons why non-fiction keeps me coming back for more.

There are thousands of articles that are as long as books, or as short as short stories, on thousands of different topics and subject matters. If you’re overwhelmed with where to start, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite “longform” websites, as well as several popular non-fiction titles available at the Cheshire Public Library.

            1. First up is Narratively, which is my favorite of all. Narratively’s tagline is “celebrating humanity through authentic storytelling”. The website works with a network of over 3,000 talented journalists and storytellers that explore the hidden stories of the world, focusing on the “underdogs” and the “overlooked tales that enlighten us”. The website has several subsections, including: hidden history, memoir, renegades, secret lives, and super subcultures. Examples of articles include “Secret Life of a Children’s Party Princess“, which explores the not so glamorous life of a part time princess, full time college student, as well as “That Time I Conducted an Autopsy Without Any Medical Training” or the mistaken identity of a med school poser. These articles, and many others, are charming, heartbreaking, and insightful. Narratively is a gem of a website, and worth coming back to again and again.

              2. Longreads and Longform are two fantastic websites that recommend longer works of fiction across the web. Each  feature in-depth investigative reporting, interviews and profiles, podcasts, essays and criticism. Both websites curate content from a variety of different publications including, The Atlantic, Harper’s Bazaar, The Guardian, and Cosmopolitan. Articles include a variety of subject matters from serious to silly, including “Taken: How police departments make millions by seizing property” (Anna Lee, Nathaniel Cary, and Mike Ellis, The Greenville News) and “I Walked 600 Miles Across Japan for Pizza Toast” by Craig Mod. Each website is updated frequently, and each hosts a fantastic array of human interest stories as well as investigative reporting.

All of these websites have a handy feature which lets you subscribe to their stories, which sends you articles by email on a weekly basis. This lets you cater your taste in articles, and lets you catch up on news when you have a moment. It’s a fantastic way to exercise your brain, and learn more about the world around you.

If you’d prefer a physical title, the Cheshire Public Library has a large collection of non-fiction titles, as well as newspapers for current events and other human interest pieces. My personal favorite is our biography section, as well as our true crime selection. A few new titles that I’ve been enjoying lately are “Three Women” by Lisa Taddeo, and “I’ll be Gone in the Dark” by Michelle MacNamara, . There are plenty of titles on a variety of subjects, and if you see gaps or something we don’t have, you can always feel free to mention it to a staff member (we’re pretty great about supplying titles our patrons suggest!)

 

Looking for more? Here are some titles from our new non-fiction section:

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Women Who Rock

Veterinarian. Astronaut. Paleontologist. Actress. President. Everyone dreams up at least one career for themselves when they’re a kid or a teenager and the future stretches out in front of them like a vast, unending ocean. Me? You couldn’t tell from the basic Gap jeans and the guitars that lived mostly in the darkness of their cases, but I wanted to be a rock star.
I never ended up getting a record deal (big surprise), but I still enjoy music immensely. And lately, I find myself reading about music and thinking about the culture around music. It’s got me wondering where all the women are. Why are we so severely underrepresented in rock bands, and when we’re there, why are we only lead vocals or playing bass? Why do we often dress up in skirts and heels, but guys can throw on a black t-shirt and call it a day? Why aren’t more of us in the wake of #MeToo taking our anger to microphones and drum kits, screaming louder than those floppy-haired skinny emo boys whose photos plastered our bedroom walls before their predatory conduct towards underage female fans plastered the news? Or, perhaps more disturbingly, are we already screaming out to be heard, but the world just isn’t listening because a man hasn’t come along and validated our efforts yet?
On that distortion-pedaled, dropped-down-a-half-step note, here’s some titles to stoke your inner riot grrrl:

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
Noise rockers Sonic Youth might be a tough listen for some folks (coughs, averts eyes), but this memoir by bassist Kim Gordon is not. She details her time in the band, her life as an artist in New York, and her marriage to frontman Thurston Moore.
Did you know that the title for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came from Bikini Kill’s lead singer, Kathleen Hanna? Never heard of Bikini Kill? Then give a listen to this history of riot grrrl, the radical feminist punk uprising in the 1990s, the waves of which can still be felt today.
You might go, “Oh, that’s the woman from Portlandia,” but before her foray into comedy, Carrie Brownstein was best known as the lead guitarist for punk band Sleater-Kinney. (IMHO, their 2005 album The Woods is one of the best rock albums of the oughts.) Her memoir presents a candid and deeply personal assessment of life in the rock-and-roll industry that reveals her struggles with rock’s double standards.
If you don’t know Amanda Palmer from the dark cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls, or her solo albums, or as a crowdfunding pioneer, you’ll know her as the wife of Neil Gaiman. (How I wish I could eavesdrop and hear the bedtime stories they tell their child!) Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet, meant to inspire readers to rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art, and love. Available from us in print and audiobook formats.

 

Dance Your Cares Away

Dance is one of man’s oldest forms of art and storytelling, with cave painting depictions going back 30,000 years. Dances occur around the world, in every culture. Some were used for storytelling. Others were used for religious purposes. Some cultures had dances for healing, for appeasing Gods, for weather control, for courting, for festivals and celebrations, and entertaining royalty. Dances were used to teach, as social commentary and rebellion, and sometimes as just plain exercise. Dances can be as low key as the Hokey Pokey, or as tightly regulated and choreographed as grand ballet, or worse, synchronized swimming dances. 

Physically, dancing is wonderful for the body. 

  • It burns calories
  • It improves coordination 
  • It promotes muscle strength and flexibility
  • It’s a weight-bearing exercise, so it’s good for improving joint function and staving off bone loss.
  • It’s fantastic as an aerobic exercise to improve cardiovascular function, circulation, and endurance.  Tap dance for just 10 minutes. Try it. 
  • As an exercise, it can help improve mood and increase endorphin levels in the body, making you happier.
  • There is no age limit on dancing – whether you’re one or one hundred, you can do it! 
  • Disability isn’t an deterrent – many forms of dance can be adapted for people who cannot walk.

And dancing isn’t just for women! Plenty of men have been famous dancers – Rudolf Nuryev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelley, Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis Jr., John Travolta, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Michael Flatley, and “Gangnam Style’s” Psy, to name just a few.  Dance takes tremendous strength and physical training. Football players take ballet to improve coordination and movement. HipHop is a male-dominated dance field. In ethnic dances around the world, men predominate, from Russian squat dancing to the New Zealand Haka and the Northern Plains Indian Grass Dance, to the Aduma dance of the Masai warriors in Kenya. Dancing, by far, is as much a man’s sport as a woman’s.

If you have to be stuck inside in the winter, why not dance! Throw some fast music on and shake out those winter blues! Throw in a ballet DVD and leap (move the furniture out of the way first!). Or join us for some New England Country Dancing at the library later this month! Don’t feel like moving? Grab a blanket and a cup of tea and check out some of these great books and movies filled with dance!

Saturday Night Fever              A Chorus Line              Dirty Dancing 

The Nutcracker                         All That Jazz                  Billy Elliot

Step Up                                      West Side Story            Oliver!

An American In Paris              La La Land                      Fiddler on the Roof

Swing Time                    Dancer                    A Time to Dance 

Russian Winter             Out Loud               Life in Motion 

The Girls at 17 Swann Street                 Dance in America: A Reader’s Anthology

 

President’s Month

Today’s post is from our Head of Adult Services, Bill:

February marks the birthdays of two of our greatest presidents – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. CPL will commemorate Presidents Day and the office of the American presidency with the Arthur Hostage Memorial Lectures – two events in late February. These programs are made possible by donations given to the Friends of the Cheshire Public Library in memory of Arthur Hostage.

Join us on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 2:00pm for “Simply Lincoln“. Being in the presence of Howard Wright as President Abraham Lincoln is an experience you will not soon forget. Dressed in precise period attire and speaking with a Kentucky accent, Lincoln’s mannerisms, speaking style, and humanity flows over the listener with each moving sentence, witty observance, or eloquent description of a tortuous time that was the Civil War. Authenticated speeches, letters, quotes, and humorous stories have been the foundation from which Howard Wright has crafted his program, giving you a sense of what it was like to have been in the presence of Abraham Lincoln.

On Tuesday, Feb. 25, 6:30 p.m., Dr. Matthew Warshauer, Professor of History, CCSU, will deliver a talk on “The Changing Nature of the American Presidency“. Dr. Warshauer’s books include, Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law: Nationalism, Civil Liberties, and Partisanship (2006); Andrew Jackson in Context (2009); Connecticut in the American Civil War: Slavery, Sacrifice and Survival (2011), all of which have received praise from noted historians. Warshauer’s most recent book publication is Inside Connecticut and the Civil War: Essay’s on One State’s Struggles (2014), in which he edited essays authored by CCSU’s Department of History master’s students.

To learn more about the presidency throughout our nation’s history, we suggest checking out the following titles:

BOOKS

 

DOWNLOADABLE AUDIOBOOKS