Oh, Joe Bageant, I miss you.
You will need to eat chocolate while reading this book.

Rainbow Pie, part 2.

So, with all the caveats out of the way, why did I find Joe Bageant's Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir so fascinating?

Well, first, because Bageant describes a world so like my own. His first chapters describe his youth growing up near his extended family and their farm in Virginia, and how his grandparents ("Pap" and "Maw") were very can-do people. I too grew up on a farm and know people who knew how to do things (and regularly did them) like raising one's own animals, hunting, butchering, raising gardens, canning food, and fixing and maintaining all the farm machinery.* So a lot of that--the missing it and not missing it, which Bageant displays, I can relate to.**

But I also like Bageant because he takes me out of my comfort area. I'm a Northern girl, and there are often things about the American South (culture, history, how anyone can stand the climate) that I don't understand. Bageant makes that world more clear for me. And he does it as a person whose ideology I respond to almost as instinctively as I often respond to Wendell Berry's.

On politics: "Today he [a Republican neighbor] would be even rarer, because he was a Republican with the common wisdom to understanding something that no Republican has ever grasped since: he realized that any wealth he might acquire in life was due not only to his own efforts, but also to the efforts of all other men combined--men who built the roads that hauled his merchandise; men who laid rail track, grew crops, drilled wells, and undertook all the other earthly labors that make society possible." (p. 52.)

On what to do now: "Ok. I'll say it so you won't have to. There ain't no goin' backwards. We certainly can't all take up horse farming or go to sowing lespedeza hay and oats. Of course not.

But the underlying theme here is loss, and that loss poses some big questions. It is at all possible to regain a meaningful, positive, and satisfying expression of character while working in such a monolithic, non-human scale of 'production'? Anybody else feel like America is just one big workhouse, with time off to shit, shower, and shop? Or is it just me?" (p. 69.)

On community: "A community with no memory of its dead is no real community, because it has no human connectivity grounded in time--just interaction. It's merely a location populated by disassociated beings. A community's inherited memory from its dead provides its spiritual and moral animation, its posterity. This is because we are humans, not aggregations of marketing or employment demographics, and are more than just a bunch of people who happen to be in the same place at the same time." (p. 111.)

I could go on and on. But I really just think you should read it. I really do. Even with its many issues. (I think Bageant should have included more family stories and a bit less class warfare discussion; some of it's uncomfortable; he concludes without providing much in the way of suggestions for change; etc.) Read it and feel free to complain to me about any of those issues, but also tell me what you THOUGHT about it. I want to know.

NOTE: Re-reading these reviews I notice I've done a terrible job of explaining why I both loved this book (and Bageant) and am conflicted about it. If you just watch this brief video of him talking (please note it's not really suitable for work), I think you'll see his anger and understand my conflict. My question after that is, how, Joe? How do you try to educate and help people? People who may or may not want education and help?

*I don't know how to do any of these things, although if forced, I could maybe plant, maintain, and harvest a garden. But it would be a half-assed garden and would mostly be eaten by bugs and bunnies, and if I had to work in it when it was much warmer than 70 degrees out I would be swearing a lot.

**These were also not people who believed in government "handouts." "Pap may have been a Democrat, but he felt free to cuss either party and its candidates with equal fervor, if he was in the mood. He didn't like Coolidge, and, though he voted for FDR twice, he was leery of parts of Roosevelt's New Deal. Particularly Social Security. He could not grasp how a man could get money in the mail at the end of the month if he had not worked during the month...After he died, a shoebox of uncashed Social Security checks was found under his bed." (pp. 35-36.) That is SO something my grandpa might have done.