Methland: Guest review, and other assorted thoughts.
Better reading about it than visiting.

Methland: Part two.

If you read the review and comments from yesterday, you'll see that Robert raised some questions about Nick Reding's book Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, and several people noted that they themselves had picked up on Reding's geographical and other errors.

This makes me very sad, because I actually thought Reding's book had some merit as a readable book on an ugly subject.* As Robert already covered, it is an investigation into meth addiction, production, and trafficking, as seen through the lens of its effects on small towns in the Midwest (and one small town, Oelwein, Iowa, in particular). Robert is also right in pointing out that the book is haphazardly organized. And yet...I did not and do not dislike this author. I think he made an effort to get out and talk to some people about this problem (I know I'm not seeking out meth-heads to talk to in bars, nor would I want to), and I think he's a new writer who's not quite sure how to construct a book yet. I can not excuse his geographical mistakes, although I feel part of the blame there rests squarely with the publisher (Bloomsbury USA), who should take some responsibility for fact-checking.

What I did find interesting about this book was Reding's description of how meth works (let me nutshell it: not only does it manipulate dopamine release and re-uptake to provide an incredible and long-lasting high, it also destroys the neurotransmiters in your brain, making it harder or impossible to ever get a natural high from anything else ever again--evil) as well as his history of how similar drugs were first made and prescribed for depression and to help people keep working. In particular, he speculates that meth is a "working-class drug" simply because so many working class people found that it allowed them to work double-shifts in factories, without the need for sleep, food, or even bathroom breaks. Again: evil.

So there you have it. Can you trust a book in which several glaring errors have been uncovered? Can you overlook a book that is a bit rocky in its execution in order to learn about an important but sad topic? If you can answer yes to those questions, I would still say you should go ahead and read this book. I do think it would work well as a companion read to Richard Longworth's Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism (which is also published by Bloomsbury, so I hope it is not as riddled with errors).

*This is small potatoes, but I also think its cover is perfect, both as a photograph and for the book's subject matter. Next time you're in a bookstore take a closer look at it. It gets the beauty and the loneliness exactly right.