Filed under: 30 Day Book Meme | Tags: 30 day book meme, books, lit, reading, the worst hard time, timothy egan
A book that makes you sad:
This one is easier! I want to be an ass and say Twilight – if there’s a book worth getting worked up and teary over it’s this one, with Bella trailing her abusive, glittery vampire all over until she wins out and her vampire fetus eats its way out of her belly. But don’t you all already know that the very idea of Twilight makes me sad? (And that I haven’t read the whole series?)
So today, I’ll move away from my pattern of writing about young adult books, from fiction entirely. The saddest book I’ve read in recent memory is Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time, a history of the Dust Bowl. Egan’s history focuses on an environmental change that tends not to get much attention in comparison to the period of the Great Depression, which intersected with and worsened the effects of the Dust Bowl. “The Dust Bowl” is probably a familiar term to anyone who’s grown up with stories of the Depression, but it isn’t something we learn much about; the Dust Bowl is treated as one of many minor stories of the Depression, not as a phenomenon that would prove to have effects as lasting as those of the Depression.
What is so heartbreaking about Egan’s book isn’t the story of the Dust Bowl and those who chose to stay on their land and attempt to farm it through the worst years of the Depression. (Worth remembering is that Steinbeck’s classic, The Grapes of Wrath, is about a family that left their home in the region. Though we often think of the novel and the Dust Bowl together, they are different stories.) It’s the story of what came before storms began to lift sheets of dirt from the ground, making the land all but unfarmable and leading to a host of medical ailments for those who remained on the land. The dust storms that came to and destroyed much of the region and those living in it were more the product of men than of nature, the result of years of farming land that wasn’t meant to be farmed, with environmentally unsound practices. Dust Bowl farmers, urged on by government programs, took a grassland perfectly suited for buffalo and attempted to turn it to farmland. In doing so they destroyed the root system that was keeping the rich soil in place.
Egan doesn’t strain to make connections with contemporary environmental issues, but it’s hard not to connect the Dust Bowl to other environmental issues, and to the persistent human desire to “better” the environment. What Egan shows, often painfully, is that it is often difficult to predict the impact human development will have on land, and that what appear to the average eye to be minor or positive changes may be the very things to crush an ecosystem. It’s a chilling story, one needs to be read, and one that – judging by high school history classes – we’ve largely forgotten.
30 Day Book Meme:
Day 01 – The best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people would’ve read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time
Filed under: Book Reviews, Brief Reviews, Commercial Fiction, Nonfiction | Tags: anne rice, are you there god, books, elizabeth george, forever, history, horror, interview with the vampire, judy blume, literature, missing joseph, mystery, mystery novel, payment in blood, the worst hard time, timothy egan, what came before he shot her, ya fiction
I don’t know how exactly, because I’ve been putting in some more hours at school and with the family and also watching a lot of Gilmore Girls and handwashing my clothes and baking bread and occasionallky going for a walk, but I’ve been reading a lot lately. I would probably die if I tried to write a blog post about every book I’ve read in the past month or so (and you would die of boredom), but I want to give these books some attention because a few I really liked.
Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was awesome. Back in college I was just as skilled a bullshitter as I am today, and in one of my lower periods (my sophomore year) I took some stupid classes, including Witchcraft & Magic. The entire football team (minus its star, Ray Rice) was taking this course, and I spent most of my time doodling on my legal pad, telling the football players to shut up, and sneaking out for bathroom breaks. I also watched a few vampire films for a paper, and I’m pretty sure I spent most of Interview with the Vampire sitting on my friend’s floor clutching a warm can of beer trying to hide my freakout.
I was expecting the book to scare me just as much. When I read this I was in a rough place because the dogs on the farm next door to me started barking, nonstop, once the sun went down, and my mouse became really, really loud. I couldn’t sleep through the night as it was, between the dogs and the mouse clattering his way around the pots and pans in my sink, trying to jump into my trash can, and had already started to convince myself that all these sounds equaled someone breaking into my mouse to murder me, so reading Interview with the Vampire seemed like it might be a bad idea. It turned out not to be; Anne Rice does the slow build thing really well. Honestly, not that much happens in this book – you know, there’s Lestat, and Claudia, and some crazy vampire parties, and some even crazier Eastern European vampire zombies, and after Claudia kills Lestat and then you know that he’s coming back I could barely breathe, but most of the book is about Louis being kind of angsty and figuring out what it means to be a vampire. The reason this book is so good is that Anne Rice’s vampires feel a lot of human emotions, even when they don’t manage to identify them as such.
Interview underscored how truly terrible Twilight is. What is wrong with Stephanie Meyer that she took vampires – who are so freaky and sexual and unforgiving – and turned them into glittery-skinned baseball playing teens living in Oregon and swooning over dull high school girls? Yeesh.
Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time is a book that deserves a whole post – but I’m lazy. For one thing, it’s one of the best books of historical reportage I’ve ever read, and for another it’s probably of particular interest to the sort of people who visit my site because it helps give another side to The Grapes of Wrath-y story of the Dust Bowl. I never thought too much about how Steinbeck’s story doesn’t tell the story of the people who stayed behind, only those who left to try and make a better life in California. Egan’s book is suffocating and at times overwhelming; it is impossible to imagine or understand how people managed to live, for years, in places where the ground wasn’t even on the ground any longer. Judging by my own vague understanding of the Dust Bowl, its causes and impact on the lives of people living in it, this is one part of the Great Depression that is often forgotten. But, dear god, the scope of the dust storms Egan writes about, some of the photos – it scared the bejeezus out of me, especially because since the whole problem was created by our own stupidity. It’s heartbreaking to read about what the Dust Bowl looked like – all the awesome grasses and herds of buffalo – before the government encouraged people to settle and farm it.
I’ve been reading some Judy Blume lately. I did all her Fudge books over the summer and briefly forgot that she wrote books for older readers, but I’ve reread Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Forever recently, both reaffirming my opionion that Judy Blume is the best writer for teens, ever. She never shies away from telling it like it is or from showing the minor uglinesses of her characters.
I’ve also been doing the Elizabeth George thing again. My mom told me to read her as a pretty light author for all my sad, lonely Peace Corps nights, but I wasn’t real into her first book, Payment in Blood. There must’ve been an Elizabeth George fan among the volunteers a few years ago, because almost all her books are in our office’s library in Skopje, so once the memory of my mild dislike for Inspecter Lynley and Sergeant Havers wore off, I started taking the mysteries home. And they get better and better, and I love that it’s a series and I can see how her characters develop and become more likeable (like, Lynley is constantly pining after his ladyfriend – I think they’re going to get married and then she’ll be murdered, or something, but right now we’re still in the swoony “why won’t she just love me back” phase of things).
I tried reading one book of hers, What Came Before He Shot Her, which was just unreadable, full of repulsive and unbelievable characters and dialogue. I started reading it when I was on my way to Egypt/Jordan/Israel over winter break, sitting at a coffee shop in Skopje while I waited three hours for my bus to Delchevo (a town on the opposite side of the country from me, near Bulgaria – we were flying out of Sofia), reading and reading and wondering when the hell Lynley and Havers were going to show up. Only after 70 pages they hadn’t shown up, and I realized that they were only going to show up at the end, and probably peripherally even then, so I quit and borrowed The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest from my friend and read that on my trip. Good, good choice. Last week I mentioned this book to my mother while we were skyping and her reaction was so wonderful – something like “You didn’t finish that, did you? God, it was awful – I read half and then I couldn’t take it anymore.” I felt tricked by the book. I checked it out expecting a Lynley & Havers mystery and instead got some wacky /insulting story about lower-class Jamaican immigrants, which I guess is one downside to writing a mystery series or whatever. If you branch out at all your readers are as likely to feel disappointed and pissed off at you as they are to enjoy “discovering a new world”. At least when John Grisham writes a novel with “pizza” or “Christmas” in the title I can be pretty sure it’s not a legal thriller.