My rating system:
10 – life-changing, an all-time favorite
5 - average for what I read
1 – terrible; why did I finish it?
Pantsuit Nation edited by Libby Chamberlain – I must confess that this book is mostly pictures with a bit of text, but I’m going to include it here anyway because it’s good. The secret FB page, Pantsuit Nation, published this compilation of members’ stories and pictures. The first section features contributions from election day – such great images of hope and excitement. The second section shows us after election day. I found hope and comfort in here. One sample: the day after the election, someone wrote about being called an anti-gay slur and how she decided to pay for the breakfast of the person who called her the name. I thought that was the perfect picture of where this country is today, the challenges of living in it, and some hints of where we need to go. Grade: 8
The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida – This was a very unusual novel. I listened to it on audio. Our protagonist is on her way to Morocco traveling solo; we’re not really sure at the start why she’s heading there. Shortly after arriving, her backpack that contains her passport, money, and other important things goes missing. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, so I’ll leave it at that. The book always had me guessing and wondering, and it easily held my interest. Grade: 7
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarity – A coworker gave me this novel, and it became a good reminder to me to not finish books that I don’t enjoy. The book is basically phluff, about a group of parents living in a beachside town in Australia where a murder has taken place. I really didn’t get into it and have no idea why I made myself finish it. Grade: 2
The New Better Off by Courtney E. Martin – In this book, the author suggests that many Americans are redefining the term “better off” and living their lives the way they want to. She provides examples in the categories of different career choices Americans are making, unconventional living situations, eschewing the traditional American trappings of success such as huge houses and multiple cars, redefining rituals, and more. It was a good premise and it’s always good to read about people making their own choices. Martin’s writing was really clunky and awkward though. Like compared to Samantha Irby (“We Are Never Meeting in Real Life”) and Jennifer Wright (“It Ended Badly”), Martin’s prose doesn’t come anywhere near to being witty or even pleasant to read. Grade: 5
The Optimistic Leftist by Ruy Teixeira – When I started reading this book, I decided to grab a little notebook and take notes on it. The premise of the book seemed so ridiculous to me that I wanted to understand the author’s argument. The book was published soon after Trump’s election, and I didn’t see that the left has much to be optimistic about. We have a right-wing nutjob as a president, and Republicans in charge of both the House and Senate as well as about 33 of the 50 states. Not just like the pro-business Republicans of yesteryear but Tea-party extremists who want to dismantle government and just have us living in a police state while global climate change destroys our lives. With these thoughts in mind, I picked up the book and wrote down the author’s thoughts since I sure don’t see a whole lot to look forward to now! I’ll provide bullet points on them; these are just my random attempts to capture the most relevant points. Before I do that, I should add that the book isn’t the most readable or fun tome I’ve picked up in a while. Although it’s short, it can be pretty dense and bland. In any case, the key bullets are:
- - Pessimism undermines the appeal of any movement and thus isn’t helpful
- - Progressive coalitions that include knowledge workers are replacing the traditional Democratic blue collar coalition. These coalitions are growing
- - Only the left can confront and fix the problems created by capitalism such as the wealth-gap
- - Democrats have embraced policies that will help the middle class rise (such as free education child care, family leave)
- - Once the ACA and things like it are put in place, it’s hard to dismantle them
- - The pro-science left will advocate for technological advances
- - The rise of educated, white-collar workers
- - Demographics: the rise of people of color, women who are single and educated, the decline of the traditional family, and the rise of millenials should bode well for Dems. Of course I then asked why are Republicans in charge, given all this? Demographics has not been winning elections. The author answered that too: the electoral college, gerrymandering, voter suppression, the fact that each state gets two senators regardless of population, and Dems have been unable to get the working class what they need so far.
- - The green economy is growing
- - Globally standards of living are growing up, and it’s largely due to things the left has advanced such as an 8 hour workday, workers’ comp, the right to unionize, bans on bad banking practices, protections of food and medicine, minimum wage, equal pay for women, and many more.
- - Despite the fact that he usually had a Republican congress, Obama was still able to get a lot done such as the ACA and mitigating the 2008 financial crisis
- - The Right’s demographics are largely aging, un-educated whites which are shrinking in size. (Although again, you just can’t rely on demographics to win elections!)
- - The book ends with a good section on making the case that humans are mostly not motivated by greed but rather by altruism
Putting it all together, does it really point to a rosy future for the left? I’m not totally convinced, but it was a thought-provoking read. Grade: 8