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Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.

Just when I was complaining that nothing I was reading would stick in my head, along came Sarah Smarsh and her book Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.*

Smarsh grew up in Kansas, the daughter of a teenage mother who was also the daughter of a teenage mother. In her memoir she details her rather chaotic upbringing, which involved parents who, if they hadn't had bad luck where jobs and finances were concerned, wouldn't have had any luck at all. Eventually they divorced, and in addition to moving around a lot Smarsh also had to deal with new family configurations and changing schools. Her extended family and grandparents, although they struggled to maintain healthy relationships of their own, luckily provided some stability for her and another place to live when she needed options.

It's a beautiful book. One of my favorite things about it is that Smarsh often addresses her prose to the baby she never had as a teenager. Sound complicated? It's not. She explains in the very first chapter:

"I heard a voice unlike the ones in my house or on the news that told me my place in the world...You were far more than what a baby is. My connection to you was the deepest kind of knowing--hard to explain because it swooshed around in my mind and took different shapes and meanings over the years. But there was a moment, before I was even old enough to have kids, when I was fretting about the sort of decision that in another household might have gotten help from parents. Those moments usually sent me praying to some God outside myself. Instead, I thought, What would I tell my daughter to do?" (p. 1.)

It's such a beautiful device, and it works well throughout the entire book.

You'll find stories here of joblessness, and losing homes, and the ag crisis, and domestic abuse (not to mention great pride, great warmth, great ingenuity, great--in its own way--love), all the things that go along with discussions of "class" in America. This book is how Smarsh relates the tale of her childhood, spent being poor, in a rich country. Or, as she says:

"How can you talk about the poor child without addressing the country that let her be so? It's a relatively new way of thinking for me. I was raised to put all responsibility on the individual, on the bootstraps which which she ought to pull herself up. But it's the way of things that environment changes outcomes. Or, to put it in my first language: The crop depends on the weather, dudnit? A good seed'll do 'er job 'n' sprout, but come hail 'n' yer plumb outta luck regardless." (pp. 2-3.)

It's a great book. It's about a million times better than Hillbilly Elegy and deserves to sell at least twice as many copies as that one sold, but it won't, because frankly, there's no justice in this world.

*God, do I hate GoodReads. I almost linked to the Heartland page there, because I know a lot of people are GoodReads fans, but I never, ever agree with the majority of reviews there. Ugh. Thank God for the New York Times review, which is the one I linked to above. That one gets it right.


Diana Athill, 1917-2019.

Out of nowhere one day, no more than a month ago, I wondered when we would lose* editor and author Diana Athill, and I actually felt some sorrow just thinking about the day she would die, which I figured must be coming because a. we all die, and b. I knew she was now either in her high 90s or 100s.

So yesterday came the announcement: Diana Athill has died, aged 101.

Go read that obituary. Really. Even if you have no idea who she is her life story is a wonder. Not only do I feel tremendous warmth toward Athill for being part of the publishing house of Andre Deutsch (the publisher who published Helene Hanff's books in England), but I really enjoyed her as an author, too. Also, because she found much of her success in writing after her 40th birthday, I find her tremendously inspiring. Here's a list of posts I've written about her in the past (I had forgotten there were so many).

I don't know where to tell you to start: among other things, she wrote the memoir Stet, about her life as an editor; Somewhere Near the End, about life as she aged into her 80s and 90s, and Alive, Alive Oh! an essay collection which includes her essay about having a surprise pregnancy and miscarriage at age 43 that remains among the best things I've ever read about a woman's body by a woman.

I salute you, Diana Athill. Fly, be free.

*Mr. CR says I have got to stop using the word "lose" as a euphemism for someone's dying. When my brother died, years ago, I called my library boss to tell her I'd lost my brother and wouldn't be in to work the next day, and all she snapped was, "Well, you're on the schedule the day after that, too," to which I patiently had to explain I wouldn't be in that day, either. When I got off the phone, appalled, Mr. CR said, "Well, maybe she really just thought you lost your brother out in the cornfield or something." (That's actually one of my favorite Mr. CR moments of all time.) But I can't help it! "Died" is too harsh and I hate the word "passed." So "lost" it is.


Best of 2018: The Max Power Way.*

I've got to be honest with you: I'm not all that sorry to see 2018 go. Not that I really expect great things out of 2019 (my secret to happiness being, of course, low expectations), but it is nice to pretend through at least January or so that "YEAH! This'll be my year!"

One of the reasons I was not fond of 2018 was because my reading took a real hit. Between eye fatigue and newly developed (I think, anyway, who the hell knows? Not any of the doctors I've seen) sinus headache issues, as well as any number of other job and family chores, I wasn't able to churn through at least a hundred pages of something every day like I've been pretty used to doing for the last twenty years. But there's people in this world with real problems, and I'm related to some of them, so it's time to stop whining that "I can't read as much as I used to and it is making me depressed!" and move on. So let's stick a fork in 2018 and make it official with this "Best Books I Read in 2018" list. The links below go to my reviews of each book.

Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist. Actually, I liked Bad Feminist: Essays a lot more than I thought I was going to. It made me think. It made me look at a few things differently. That's why I read essays. And, God love her, Roxane Gay dares to say, when men ask her if she's on the pill, "No. Are you?"

Stacy Horn, Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York. Stacy Horn is the hardest working, most thoughtful, most rigorously dedicated to good fact-checking nonfiction author we currently have. Go read the conversation I was lucky enough to have with her this year, and then go read all her books.

Peter Maas, Serpico. About whistle-blowing NYPD cop Frank Serpico. What a great read. Technically I read it in 2017, but hey, this is my list so I make the rules.

In addition to losing productivity as a reader, I also lost productivity as a writer this year, which was not a direction in which I wanted to go. I read a lot of nonfiction that I never got around to blogging about. I would finish a book, give it some thought, put it on my table to write about it, where...it eventually went overdue and I just had to return it to the library. One of those books was David Sedaris's latest essay collection Calypso. I've never really been a huge Sedaris fan, and I tend to like him most when he is writing essays about his large and completely (and I mean this in the nicest way, coming from a similar family myself) BATSHIT INSANE family members. Guess what? A lot of the essays in Calypso are about his family! There's also an essay in it about how strangers speak with one another and how (what I'll call) "marketing speak" fills up most of our conversations, and I just laughed the whole time I read it. Then I cried a little bit because the laughter wore me out and the essay was just so good, so gentle, so everything I wish my essay writing could be. Well played, Sedaris.

InfidelityLast but not least I read a memoir titled Infidelity, by Ann Pearlman. It is a memoir of an entire life, and a big issue: that of the history of the men in her family to be unfaithful to their wives (which happened to her grandmother, her mother, and herself). I didn't expect to like it. It was, in its way, depressing as hell. But it was also really, really good. I mean, look at that cover. I hardly ever include pictures on this blog anymore but I had to share this one--it's a perfect cover and it's perfect for the book. Anyone else read it? I'd love to hear others' thoughts. I don't even remember where I found it, except that I think maybe I read something else online by or about Ann Pearlman? Ah, it's hell, getting old.

That said, here's to another year of all of us getting older together. As long as we continue to read good books together and chat them up here, I'll be happy with 2019. Thanks, as always, for reading, not only this blog, but in general. Reading is good for you. Now get out there and spread the word.

*Wrong, but faster.


Hitting up the comfort reading hard.

I really, really enjoy Christmastime.

Of course it is not really the done thing anymore to say it that way, and that's okay. I'm down with saying "Happy Holidays" or whatever other greeting is appropriate for people I know. I don't particularly believe there's a war on Christmas. But there's also no use denying that it's Christmas that I really love. "The holidays," particularly when taken to include Thanksgiving and the hell that is the New Year's Eve/New Year's Day duo, and "the holidays" with all its connotations of enforced shopping and relative-seeing, well, "the holidays" actually aren't my favorite things ever.

But I like twinkly lights, and to some extent I like cold weather, and I love singing Christmas carols (if you haven't heard Frank Sinatra sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," you haven't lived...unless you've heard Judy Garland hit it out of the park), and I ADORE making my ravenous way through absolutely horrifying amounts of chocolates and cookies and Christmas goodies, and as a routine-driven introvert I like doing the same things around the same time, year after year after year. I love putting up the same old nativity set that I've put up my whole life (my mom is still with us, but gave me her nativity set--the one we always used when I was a kid--a few years back). I love hanging the same ornaments. I love watching the CRjrs hang their favorite ornaments, and finding some of the crafts they made last year.

And most of all I love reading and watching all of my favorite things. Often in December I'll give the hardcore reading a rest and instead spend a lot of time with my favorite British TV Christmas episodes, watching my favorite holiday movies (I have added Just Friends to this rotation), and re-reading all my favorite and non-challenging books. Because I always re-watch Bridget Jones's Diary at this time of year, I also decided to re-read the novel it was based on, and that's fun. (The movie and the book are really different. I'd totally forgotten that.) And this year, although I've read it several times before, I am re-reading Helene Hanff's lovely Letter from New York, where I found this:

"I have eight people and two dogs coming for Christmas dinner and since studio apartments have small refrigerators, you have to work out the logistics in advance. You make your pies, cranberry sauce and sweet-potato casserole ahead of time and then distribute them around the building in other people's refrigerators, since the turkey, hors d'oeuvres, vegetables and eggnog bowl are all you'll have room for in yours. On Christmas morning once your turkey's in the oven, you go and get everything back. And the logistics consist in remembering whether the casserole is in 4-F or 16-B, and did you get the keys to 8-E up the hall, because Shelley and Susan have gone skiing in Vermont for Christmas, with your pies in their freezer." (p. 16.)

If that doesn't get you in the holiday spirit, I don't know what will. Happy Christmas to all, to all a good night, and may your 2019 be filled with only good things.


A bit more about Roxane Gay's "Bad Feminist."

Well, I have finished as much as I am going to of Roxane Gay's essay collection Bad Feminist.

We've already had a bit of discussion on this book, and I think we're all agreed that the entire collection could have been edited a bit better (the book is 320 pages long and honestly, I think it could have been trimmed a bit, both in terms of tightening up each essay and also leaving a few out). I think we're also agreed that the book got a lot (perhaps too much?) press; and although I'm often the first to be completely bugged by a book that is overhyped, mostly that bothers me when I don't think such a book merited the hype at all. Does that make sense?

That was not the case (for me) with this collection. I've not read every single last page of the book, but what I did read in it often made me think, or helped me see things from a different angle. It even gave me moments when I could give what I call  "snorts of angry sisterhood laughter."*

As for seeing some things differently? There is her essay "What We Hunger For." Here is some of it:

"When I was in middle school, when I was young--old enough to like a boy but young enough to have no clue what that meant--there was a boy who I thought was my boyfriend and who said he was my boyfriend but who also completely ignored me at school. It's a sad, silly story lots of girls know...

When we were together, he'd tell me what he wanted to do to me. He wasn't asking permission. I was not an unwilling participant. I was not a willing participant. I felt nothing one way or the other. I wanted him to love me. I wanted to make him happy. If doing things to my body made him happy, I would let him do anything to my body. My body was nothing to me. It was just meat and bones around that void he filled by touching me. Technically, we didn't have sex, but we did everything else. The more I gave, the more he took. At school, he continued looking right through me. I was dying but I was happy. I was happy because he was happy, because if I gave enough, he might love me. As an adult, I don't understand how I allowed him to treat me like that. I don't understand how he could be so terrible. I don't understand how desperately I sacrificed myself. I was young." (p. 142.)

There is not really a happy ending to that story. But you should go and read that essay. I'm going to re-read it periodically because it is an unbelievably good essay. I'm going to re-read it periodically to remind myself how important it is that I try to raise the CRjrs to grow up to be people who won't take what women (or anyone) might be desperately sacrificing themselves to give.

Yeah. Hype and all. I liked the book, and I like Roxane Gay.

*One such moment: in her essay "The Alienable Rights of Women," there is this paragraph: "If I told you my birth control method of choice, which I kind of swear by, you'd look at me like I was slightly insane. Suffice it to say, I will take a pill every day when men have that same option. We should all be in this together, right? One of my favorite moments is when a guy, at that certain point in a relationship, says something desperately hopeful like, 'Are you on the pill?' I simply say, 'No, are you?"

To that paragraph I say: AMEN SISTER. I have been waiting for what feels like an eternity to find one other woman to speak this idea aloud. And now I've found her. No matter what else she does I'll love her forever for that paragraph.


Getting my Wendell Berry in, just under the wire.

Hey everyone. Where did October go?

I know our discussion this month was supposed to be about Wendell Berry's Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community, and I'm truly sorry to report that I did not get the entire book read, or any posts done. Because I can tell it is a truly great book. I can tell that mostly because I know how Wendell Berry writes, and I know a lot about how he thinks, and he is RIGHT ON. But I can also tell that it is great because it contains paragraphs like this:

"Most of us get almost all the things we need by buying them; most of us know only vaguely, if at all, where those things come from; and most of us know not at all what damage is involved in their production. We are almost entirely dependent on an economy of which we are almost entirely ignorant. The provenance, for example, not only of the food we buy at the store but of the chemicals, fuels, metals, and other materials necessary to grow, harvest, transport, process, and package that food is almost necessarily a mystery to us. To know the full economic history of a head of supermarket cauliflower would require an immense job of research. To be so completely and so ignorantly dependent on the present abusive food economy certainly defines us as earth abusers. It also defines us as potential victims." (pp. 36-37.)

He's got something like that on almost every page. It's so true it's exhausting. But at one point he talks about "good work," and what he means by that phrase. Trust me, reading this book would be "good work." I'm still not fully back on my reading game, but I'm going to continue with this one, however long it takes me.


Labor Day Reading List 2018.

Good morning! If you'll remember, Labor Day is one of my absolute favorite holidays. I am determined to enjoy it today, although for some reason I cannot sleep at all lately and so stumble around all day like a zombie. Also, it is dark out there (I live in a new monsoon zone where it is constantly dark and rainy) and we will probably not be able to play much outside; major bummer.

So every year at this time I compile a list of books that I've read that have to do with jobs and work. (Here's the prior links: 2017. 2016. 2015. 2014. 2009.) This is a category of nonfiction I really enjoy, so normally this is a long list, but not this year. I've read a lot less this year, so apologies for this short list. Better luck next year, right? I hear you just feel better and get lots more time to indulge in your favorite activities as you age*, so here's looking forward to 2018-2019.

Helene Hanff, Underfoot in Show Business. A re-read, but God, this book is so awesome. About trying to make it in theatah and i New York City in general.

Michael Perry, Population 485. Another re-read, about being a writer, volunteer EMT and firefighter, and all-around decent guy.

Brian Alexander, Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of an All-American Town. An investigative book about Ohio's Anchor Hocking Glass company, and how finance types and business people raped it for all the profit they could get, helping destroy its hometown in the process. In bold because it's one of the best books I read this year. READ IT, even if some of the financial fine print gets a bit dense and you have to skip parts of it.

Peter Maas, Serpico. About being a cop, and a whistleblower. Unbelievably great read.

Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. About Wilder's life as a farmer and author. Fantastic. Very important in these days when Wilder's reputation is taking a hit. Yes, the settlers were not nice to Native Americans. Maybe we should read about that and discuss why it was wrong rather than pretend it never happened. At least that's the way I feel about it.

Annie Spence, Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks. About books, reading, and being a librarian.

Rachel Arneson, No Apparent Distress: A Doctor's Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine. About becoming and being a doctor. It didn't set me on fire but was an interesting read.

NOW: Go forth, and have a Happy Labor Day. I wish you a good day celebrating work by not doing any.

*HA.


The Essay Project 2018: Joan Didion, the right writer for this time in my life.

It's still August, which means our Essay Project assigned reading is still Joan Didion's The White Album.

Have you ever had that feeling that you've read an author for a long time, or here and there, and you generally like them, think they are good at their trade, and then one day you're reading them and you're like, WOW, I am getting this like I have never gotten this before.

This is the experience I am having with Joan Didion's The White Album.

Not so much the first essay (after which the collection is named). That is still not my favorite essay, although it is one of her best known, and I'm still wondering at the craft of it. I like the bold opening statement ("We tell ourselves stories in order to live"). I mean, that's the kind of statement you could think about and parse for a long time. And I really like her formulation of this sentence:"By way of comment I offer only that an attack of vertigo and nausea does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968." Why "does not now seem to me an inappropriate response"? Why not simply "seems to me now an entirely appropriate response."? There must be a reason.

But anyway. Where I'm finding I'm completely in concert with Didion at this time in my life is a lot of small moments in a lot of her smaller essays. I LOVE the essay "Holy Water," when she learns about how water moves and is moved around her home state of California; I love the science of it mixed with the pragmatism and the language and imagery. I love how SHE loves learning about the water. I love that she wants to stay in the "water control center" and move the water around herself: "I had no further business in this room and yet I wanted to stay the day. I wanted to be the one, that day, who was shining the olives, filling the gardens, and flooding the daylong valleys like the Nile. I want it still."

I can hear the desire there, for power, for control, to give life. I can feel it. So then I saw at the bottom of this essay, it was written (or published) in 1977. Didion was born in 1934. She wrote that essay when she was 43. In other words? Exactly the same age I am now. Is this why it's resonating so? Especially the essays that seem to do plenty on their surface and do even more underneath? Because that is how I feel some days on this Earth: I want to stay the day and exert some life-giving control too.

I'm knocked over by this book.


Has anyone started their Joan Didion yet?

I have!

And I think I've read the whole thing before (The White Album, I'm talking about), but periodically I seem to forget that I've read it. Then I pick it up and I read the first essay, and then I start skipping around, and while reading it, I feel all unsettled and psychically itchy and uncomfortable and it seems to me that the earlier times I've read it, I've read it the exact same way, and maybe that's why I never remember that I have actually read the whole book, several times.

Wow. And those right there are a couple of sentences that would probably make Joan Didion cry. The very opposite of good writing.

Anyway. Please let me know if you've started The White Album and how you're finding it. I started it again and came across this, which of course I remembered, because it is very memorable (when commenting on her own physical and mental state at the time):

"By way of comment I offer only that an attack of vertigo and nausea does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968." (p. 15.)

And it strikes me that we are reading this essay fifty years on from 1968, and that is in-fucking-credible to me, how long this woman has been living and thinking and writing. (Also I couldn't agree more. An attack of vertigo and nausea seems to me an entirely appropriate response to 2018. The more things change, eh?)


Stacy Horn's Damnation Island and more essay chat.

I've not yet reviewed it here, but I have read (and loved) Stacy Horn's new book Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York. I also had the good fortune to interview Stacy about the book for The Millions. But the big news this morning is that her book got a great review in the New York Times! YAY, Stacy!

The book is not a light read but I loved it for all the usual reasons I love Stacy Horn's nonfiction writing: It's thoughtful, it's well-organized, I know it's been exhaustively fact-checked. But she always brings a little something extra to her stories, even when they're about crime and horrible mistakes that all sorts of people make, not just criminals but also those seeking to reform criminals: sympathy. You finish this book and you're sad, mostly because if you read enough books like this you realize there have never really been any "good old days," but also because you can't believe how much how many people have suffered down through the ages. But at the same time, she never really seems to give up. I like her tenacity. In her last pages she points out how the struggle to figure out how best to incarcerate people still goes on, and that we first have to learn about these problems to start to consider how to approach them.

In other Essay Project news I'm now in David Sedaris's We Talk Pretty One Day. Anyone else read the Sedaris? What are your thoughts? In reading (re-reading? I think I've read it before but can't remember--never a good sign) I find that I'm feeling the same way about Sedaris that I have always felt about him: I largely don't understand the appeal. I think he's a good writer, and he sometimes makes me laugh (mainly when telling stories about his very...ahem...interesting family), but I've never quite understood why he became a huge best-selling essayist. Can someone explain the appeal?


I got to interview Stacy Horn for The Millions!

DamnationSo everyone knows I love Stacy Horn, right?

The big news today is that yesterday an interview I did with Stacy got published at The Millions!

I really enjoyed it and Stacy couldn't have been more gracious or forthcoming. Learning more about her writing process was so great.

Stacy's new book, Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York, comes out next week. Do get it. It's a great read and Stacy's the hardest-working author in showbiz.

Have a great weekend, all--more questions about The Polysyllabic Spree next week!


Nobody Puts Nonfiction in a Corner: Michael Perry's Population: 485.

So when you're starting to put together a list of nonfiction books that have been seminal to your adulthood and your continuing evolution as a person, all the nonfiction books, in short, that you'd want to take with you to a desert island, where do you start?

Well, I'm starting with Michael Perry's memoir Population: 485, Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time.

I first read this book right around the time it came out (2003), at a time when I was really just starting to read a lot of nonfiction. That also coincided with a time in publishing when memoirs were all the rage, so there were a lot of them about and I used them as a sort of gateway drug into nonfiction. I wonder how many people find themselves reading nonfiction that way, incidentally. Novels, novels, novels, one memoir, POOF: nonfiction reader.

And what a great memoir this was to read:

"There is a road below, a slim strip of county two-lane, where the faded blacktop runs east-west, then bends--at Jabowski's Corner--like an elbow. In the crook of the elbow, right in the space where you would cradle a baby, is a clot of people. My mother is there, and my sister, and several volunteer firefighters, and I have just joined them, and we are all on our knees, kneeling in a ring around a young girl who has been horribly injured in a car wreck. She is crying out, and we are doing what we can, but she feels death pressing at her chest. She tells us this, and we deny it, tell her no, no, help is on the way." (p. 2.)

It's Michael Perry's story of returning to his rural Wisconsin hometown to write and rejoin his first community, not least as one of its volunteer first responders. Not only was it an example of a near-perfect memoir, but it was also a perfect time for me to be reading it. I live about fifteen minutes away from the house where I grew up, which was on a farm, and although now I live in the city (or I should say, a suburban outpost of a nearby city), I recognize the rural surroundings Perry describes. What is harder for me to understand is his desire to re-integrate with his former community in a very visceral way: as a person who shows up to help when any kind of distress call goes out. It's not that I don't want to be of help. I try very hard to be of help to family members and people I know well. But I have never been very good at being part of a community. I never fit in my farm community, really, and I don't fit in my city community, either, although I love my neighborhood with its 1950s houses and its unfussy vibe. 

So here's Perry, offering to show up in the area of New Auburn, Wisconsin, and to try in his role as a member of the volunteer Fire Department to help anyone who calls, in any location:

"'Get out of bed!' my high school science teacher used to say. 'People die in bed!' Truth be told, ambulance calls have taught me otherwise. People tend to die in the bathroom. They tip over while groping the medicine cabinet for Maalox, or straining on the pot just enough to blow a leaking abdominal aneurysm. Rare is the EMT who hasn't performed CPR between the tub and the toilet." (p. 133.)

If that doesn't get straight to the point, I don't know what does. I have to respect someone who is willing to answer those calls. So: Writing style? Top-notch. Detailed personal details? Check. A truly kind and generous heart behind the stories? All here. It is, full stop, a great memoir.

But here's another reason I love Michael Perry and his books, and it's more personal.

I was a lot younger when I read this memoir, and I was charmed to think of Perry out there in small-town Wisconsin, living in an old house in New Auburn, and writing and drinking coffee at all hours of the night and day. It seemed like an appealing lifestyle, and I was glad he was living it. And then he wrote another memoir about falling in love (and fixing up an old truck), titled, appropriately, Truck, and then he got married and wrote yet another memoir about being married and having and raising kids (titled Coop, as in chicken). And I read all these books as he wrote them, as well as others that he wrote along the way, including a novel (The Jesus Cow), a YA novel (The Scavengers), and another nonfiction book about the pleasures of reading Montaigne.* And although I was already married when I first found Perry, I kind of grew up with him, and enjoyed reading about his parallel experiences of love, marriage, and adulthood. 

But here's the real kicker. Now when I go back and read Population: 485, I'm almost saddened at the picture that it presents because I know it is no longer accurate. He's not living in New Auburn anymore. His life, although he still lives in rural America and writes for a living, is much different than it was when he was writing this book. I feel nostalgia for Michael Perry's life, as written in this memoir, the same way I feel nostalgia when I go through picture books of when the CRjrs were the tiniest of babies.

That sounds so stupid. I'm well aware. It's a sad feeling, but it's a really good feeling. It's like I know Michael, and his family, and the people he writes about. I feel connected to him, as a reader feels connected to a writer, to another human with whom they can feel some sort of communion. And, because I have given this book to other people, and talked about this book with other people, through it, I have also felt communion with other readers.** This is a book that made me realize that I'm never going to fit in with the majority of the communities in which I have to function on a daily basis, but it's okay. Because there is a community out there that love and feel a part of, and that is the amorphous community of READERS.

Oh, I love this book. It's so sad and beautiful and joyful and funny and although I have enjoyed all the rest of Perry's books, I really feel that he put everything into this book and made it a perfect little jewel of literature, akin to Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It. It's just good prose:

"Life is a preservation project. Our instinct for preservation plays out in everything from the depth of our breaths to an affection for bricks. Even as we flail and cling, trying to bottle time, to save it, we live only through its expenditure. Memory is a means of possession, but eventually, the greatest grace is found in letting go." (p. 178.)

I'm never going to let go of my love for Michael Perry and his perfect memoir Population: 485.

*Another essayist we should tackle together someday, incidentally.

**Most notably, with my dad.

 


Looking for a name for our "Best of" Nonfiction list.

I thought long and hard about what to title these new types of posts:

1. The Citizen Reader Worldview in 52 Books (Or, Become a Bitter Middle-Aged Midwestern Woman in Only 52 Weeks!)

2. 100 Game-Changing Nonfiction Books

3. Nonfiction for a Twenty-first Century Citizen Reader

4. 100 Nonfiction Books Deemed "Too Depressing" by Mr. CR

5. Great Nonfiction to Read While Watching Two Preschoolers Who Can't Stop Pushing Each Other Down On the Cement Driveway

But all of those seemed a little personal (well, not the second one, the second one just seems boring), and I would like this list of Nonfiction Greatest Hits to be more broadly useful to a wide variety of readers.

So what to call it?

...

First maybe I'll tell you a little story about how I really started thinking that it is time to change Citizen Reader, or perhaps just to start to go out with a bang. In the month of March I slowly read an investigative nonfiction/business history book titled Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town,* by journalist Brian Alexander. It was a great book. It was not the best book I've ever read, and in some ways it was a very run-of-the-mill example of the type of nonfiction I favor (namely, "depressing" investigative nonfiction on current economic and cultural trends in America), but it was a great book. It was a book I found on another list, elsewhere, and I was intrigued by the title, so I brought it home, and it sat around my house for a while. And then I took a little break from reading, but shortly before this book was due, I thought, "No, even if my eyes are tired, I want to read this book."

So I did.

I read it more slowly than I usually read these books, and I never really felt like I couldn't put it down, but all the same I kept being drawn back to it. It is the story, basically, of the city of Lancaster, Ohio, and how its main manufacturer and employer, Anchor Hocking Glass, began and (pretty much) ended. It is a story of community history, the business environment of America in the twentieth century through 2016, it is the story of individuals struggling to find meaning in their work and a living wage, it is the story of an insular town mentality, it is an individual business history, and it is also a story of opiate abuse and other crime (mainly petty, but also huge glaring financial crimes perpetrated by the 1% of the title).

It's got a lot going on.

I would like for you to read this book, but I know that a lot of readers would be turned off by the level of business details in it. Trying to understand the financial shenanigans of leveraged buyouts and corporate takeovers (many of which have been going on since at least the 1980s) is ridiculous; I have to give Alexander credit that he could describe most of it as clearly as he could. Where the rubber really meets the road is in one of the final chapters, when he discusses the trend of pundits telling Midwesterners to leave their smallish cities and towns and rural areas if they want to avoid drugs and find better-paying work:

"For decades, politicians--Republicans and Democrats both--and pundits had all been spewing empty platitudes of praise for 'the heartland,' 'real America,' and 'small-town values.' Then, with shameless hypocrisy, they supported the very policies that helped destroy thriving small towns.

Corporate elites said they needed free-trade agreements, so they got them. Manufacturers said they needed tax breaks and public-money incentives in order to keep their plants operating in the United States, so they got them. Banks and financiers needed looser regulations, so they got them. Employers said they needed weaker unions--or no unions at all--so they got them. Private equity firms said they needed carried interest and secrecy, so they got them. Everyone, including Lancastrians themselves, said they needed lower taxes, so they got them. What did Lancaster and a hundred other towns like it get? Job losses, slashed wages, poor civic leadership, social dysfunction, drugs...

Telling Lancaster to surrender and call U-Haul made it easy for America to ignore its Lancasters. Sure, there was a lot of talk about such places and the people in them, but few wanted to spend much time learning about how they'd been left behind by the financialization and digitalization of American life. Silicon Valley kept promising nirvana but delivering new ways to gossip, even while disconnecting people from each other and their real communities. Politicians soothed the blows of globalization with promises to retrain and educate, but none of that happened for Lancaster's working class.

To so blithely dismiss the value of community was to pretend there was no loss. But there was, and the effects of that loss continued to ripple throughout the town." (pp. 291-294.)

So here's where my little story ends. I read this book, and I read that, and somewhat sharply it struck me that yes, that is a culmination of most of the nonfiction I've been reading since 2000. In my brain I could feel all sorts of threads coming together, and I felt for a moment like I had a clear picture of the time and place I live in. I have read A LOT of books to get to this place. And for the first time in a long time I thought, I don't need to read any more.**

I want to do something else.

So, in light of our discussions a few weeks back, here's what we're going to do. Citizen Reader is going to place of action. Mine, and yours. We're also going to take things seriously enough to have a schedule; I'll post it soon. We're going to read some essays, and one month we're going to have an online book club, and in the middle of all that I'm going to write posts that list books I've read and helped me get to this moment of clarity, and this is what I'm going to call that list, because I am a Gen Xer and although I want to take things seriously, I also can't resist a pop culture reference:

Nobody Puts Nonfiction In a Corner (or, 100 Nonfiction Books I Couldn't Live Without)***

And #100 on that list is Brian Alexander's excellent Glass House. This list will not really be in order, but I'm calling this book #100 because I don't think you can start there. I want to tell you about the best, clearest, most helpful nonfiction books that I've read about living in this place and time. Won't you join me?

Oh, and don't worry. I'm still going to read. I'll still need something else to look at besides my little CRs pushing each other down in the driveway.

*This link goes to an excellent review of this book at Slate; concise, well-written, even very good about explaining briefly the financial mishaps wreaked on the Anchor Hocking company.

**I actually had this thought in quote form: in Anne Tyler's novel Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, elderly Pearl Tully is being read to by her son Ezra, out of her own childhood diary. At one point he reads to her an entry about a happy moment she had: "...'I saw that I was kneeling on such a beautiful green little planet. I don't care what else might come about, I have had this moment, it belongs to me.'

That was the end of the entry. He fell silent.

'Thank you, Ezra,' his mother said. 'There's no need to read any more.'" (p. 277.)

That's exactly the way I felt. Thank you, Ezra. There's no need to read any more.

***With full props to the film Dirty Dancing, for giving us one of the most truly ridiculous lines of dialogue ever.

 


Second great read of the year: Serpico.

Okay, I read Serpico: The Cop Who Defied the System in 2017, too, just like I read Prairie Fires, but frankly, I was ready to be done with 2017 a few weeks before it actually finished, so there's that. I was able to fly through Serpico because it was my book to take along when we stayed overnight at my in-laws' for the Christmas holiday. I love my in-laws and they are very nice to open their house to us, but for some reason I can never, ever sleep there. So I always make sure to take along a book that will keep me company from, roughly, the hours between 10 p.m. (when, if we're lucky, the CRjrs, after all the excitement of presents and cousins and too much food, oh my, finally drop into an exhausted half-sleep) and 4 a.m., when maybe, sometimes maybe, I can pass out and dream anxiety dreams because I know the boys will be up again in two hours and will wake me up with them.

Anyway. This book turned out to be perfect for that purpose, and a completely engrossing read in its own right!

Now, "Serpico" is one of those names I've hazily known about my whole life. Here's what I knew: 1. it was the title of a movie starring Al Pacino (that I have never seen). 2. Serpico was a cop.

And that is it.

But then, I saw a trailer for a new documentary about Serpico, titled Frank Serpico.

And I thought, wait a second, Frank Serpico was a WHISTLEBLOWER?

I am beyond fascinated by whistleblowers. I am, as a matter of fact, a whistleblower groupie. I don't know what this says about my personality, because I think whistleblowers are by and large really complex and really interesting and really important people, but I think they can also be very difficult people.

So immediately I thought, I've got to read the book Serpico: The Cop Who Defied the System*, by Peter Maas (on which the Pacino/Sidney Lumet movie was based). It's a straightforward account of Serpico's youth, desire to be a cop, journey to become a cop, and then his growing realization, after he became a cop, that nearly every other cop in New York City at that time (the 1960s and 70s) was either accepting bribes and payoffs from gamblers, organized crime types, and drug traffickers. Even the cops who weren't taking payouts were going along by acting like nothing was wrong, and this went all the way up to the highest ranks of the department.

Until, that is, Frank Serpico came along. And for a long time he tried to do his own thing, but eventually it became impossible. So he started trying to go to his superiors with his stories, and they were not interested. Then he went to someone in the mayor's office, and they weren't really interested, either, because the 1960s and 70s were not exactly happy sunshine-y times in the history of NYC, and the mayor kind of needed to keep the police department on his side. So then Serpico went to someone in the press, and of course then the shit pretty much hit the fan. And very shortly after that Serpico himself got shot in the face in a drug bust gone wrong, about which incident there is still some question about whether it was a set-up to get him killed or just an honest shitshow.

I just opened this book to find a good quote to use, and honestly, it's the type of book that's compelling wherever you dip into it. Here's the beginning of chapter two, which is the first page I flipped to:

"When he was shot, Serpico was a member of a plainclothes detail in the Police Department. Plainclothesmen are actually patrolmen working, as the name indicates, out of uniform and on special assignment, usually in narcotics, prostitution, or gambling. While corruption in the police force was by no means limited to those on plainclothes duty, the temptations and opportunities it afforded for graft had always been especially high--in narcotics because of the huge profits at stake, and in prostitution and gambling not only because of the money, but because they were two areas of illegal activity that a large segment, if not a majority, of the public constantly demanded." (p. 21.)

It was a great book. Read it. Anyone seen the movie with Al Pacino? I'm going to watch that too (as well as the documentary linked to above, when it's available on DVD).

*Evidently I never knew about this subtitle, which kind of tells you that he was a whistleblower.


First great read of the new year: Prairie Fires.

I actually read my first great book of 2018 in December of 2017. Let's apply a phrase I believe in and use a lot: "Close enough for guvmint work."*

Prairie firesThe book in question was Caroline Fraser's Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and WOW, was it fantastic.

It is, of course, basically a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose Little House books continue to loom large in our reading and pop culture. And WHAT a biography. Fraser covers not only the woman's life, but also how her books (largely presented as factual, or autobiographical) were actually very careful amalgamations of fact and fiction and personal philosophies (both Wilder's and her daughter's).

Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it is actually a dual biography: not only are the details of Wilder's life explored, so are the details of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane's, work and life and loves. And what lives they were. The more I read details of how hard life was on the frontier, trying to build your own house and grow your own crops and stay safe from numerous prairie blizzards, the more I am stunned by how easy life is now. Here I sit in the arctic blast, anxiously listening to my furnace and hoping it continues to kick in. I can't imagine huddling in my little sod or wood homestead, depending on wood I had to cut myself or hay I had to twist myself just to try and keep warm enough to survive. It boggles the mind.

When I first started reading the book, I thought it was a little dry, because when I read biographies I pretty much want all the gritty details. (My main question, of course, involves procreation and parenting, because those are always the details I am interested in: why did Wilder, when she had her first baby in her late teens and her second baby--who, tragically, died shortly after birth--shortly thereafter, never have any more? What was her marriage to Almanzo Wilder really like?) But then I realized Fraser wasn't really holding back, she was just sticking to the facts she knew, which was tricky enough, considering that most of the details about Wilder's life comes from her books, and her books are not actually 100% true nonfiction. And by the time I was done with the whole book, which is excellent and wide-ranging and both clear-eyed and sympathetic, I found that I really had all the details about Laura's, her family's, Almanzo's, and Rose's lives that I needed.

I also had a healthy new appreciation for how great it is to live in this time and place. I spent the next few weeks after reading this book telling the CRjrs, when they went to the bathroom, "Imagine having to go outside to go to the bathroom, to a little wood shack with a hole in a plank. Imagine having to clean that poop pit out yourselves. In this cold weather!" And they both looked at me like I was crazy, but then asked more questions about that whole deal. Because both my own parents used outhouses in their very early years, I was also able to make it personal. "When Grandpa was your age he had to go outside to poop! And go out to care for their animals on these subzero mornings! And grow a lot of his own food!" I probably bored them to death but I certainly reminded myself that my life, filled as it is with indoor plumbing and access to antibiotics, is truly something to be thankful for. Not a bad way to start 2018, actually.

Do read this book. It needs more pictures and it slightly drags in parts but overall--a fantastic and important read.

*A corollary to my overall life motto, as noted earlier, of "Fuck it. Close enough."


Best Books 2017 (part 2): That I DID blog about!

A while back I wrote about books that I read in 2017, enjoyed, and never blogged about. Today's list runs down the books that I enjoyed in 2017 and that I DID blog about! Please note: this list is not solely about titles that were published IN 2017. Books published in 2017 on the below list are in BOLD. Links are to my CR reviews.

After the Eclipse: A Mother's Murder, a Daughter's Search, by Sarah Perry. True crime, and one of the best books I've ever read, full stop.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016, edited by Amy Stewart. A nearly perfect collection, encompassing a broad range of essay styles, topics, and length, on topics that you may not always think of as science (sports bra design?) but which certainly are.

Raw dealRaw Deal: How the "Uber Economy" and Runaway Capitalism are Screwing American Workers, by Steven Hill. A bit dense, but very interesting investigative writing on tech, jobs, the economy, and ultimately, what kind of society we want to have.

Getting Schooled, by Garret Keizer. A memoir by a writer who started his career as a teacher, then went back and put in another year teaching after many years away from it. Great stuff.

Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, by Willie Parker. I am anti-abortion, so why was this memoir by a doctor who provides abortions a "favorite"? Because I think it was an important read especially if you ARE going to be anti-abortion. In what ways can we move this issue to one where we care for babies who do arrive, make adoption a better option, and address the base-level inequalities between men and women that lead to women ALWAYS having to make all the hard choices themselves? (MALE BIRTH CONTROL PILL FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. I'm just saying.)

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies, by Hadley Freeman. Pop culture. I just plain enjoyed it.

All Grown Up, a novel by Jami Attenberg. I just love Jami Attenberg.

Why I am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, by Jessa Crispin. I don't agree with Jessa Crispin on a lot of things, but on the other hand, I agree with Jessa Crispin on a lot of things.

Dorothy dayDorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved By Beauty, by Kate Hennessy. A biography/memoir about The Catholic Worker newspaper founder Dorothy Day and her family, written by her granddaughter. So beautiful. So sad. Just like life;

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, by David Simon. A True Crime classic about Baltimore. Can't believe I'd never read it before.

Brief Histories of Everyday Objects, a graphic novel by Andy Warner. Great history, fun format. I really should read more graphic novels.

The Platinum Age of Television, by David Bianculli. Another great pop culture read.

Victoria the Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire, by Julia Baird. Such a great read that I really didn't even notice that it was more than 700 pages long.

Frank: The Voice, and Sinatra: The Chairman, exhaustive biographies of Frank Sinatra by James Kaplan. Great reads both, although I preferred the former.

What were your favorites this year? I hope very much it was a good 2017 for each and every one of you. On to 2018!


Best Books 2017...that I didn't even blog about.

I read a lot of really good nonfiction this year. But what almost invariably happened was that when I really liked a book, I set it aside to blog about it later when I could "take more time writing about it."

Yeah, right.

I'd set my favorite books aside, wait for this magical mythical moment when I had lots of free time,* it would never come, then the book would go overdue, and I would just have to return it to the library. BUT! I did usually write down the titles of the books I was reading, so that's how I know what great books I read and never blogged about. Here they are:

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West. Actually, I quite enjoyed this book, a collection of essays by West. One of the most interesting ones was how she actually met and talked with a very misguided man who went to the trouble of creating a whole fictitious Twitter account FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE of trolling her. Normally I don't feel a lot of communion with millennial woman, but I enjoyed her frustrated but still understanding/forgiving tone. A thoughtful read.

Am I Alone Here?, essays about reading by a man named Peter Orner. I didn't get the whole thing read, but this was an interesting collection about reading and what it means to us.

PrivacyPrivacy, by Garret Keizer. Ohmygod did I love this book. I think I'm making plans to either force this book on you in a Menage, or to host some kind of read-along or something. It's a very short little book with some very big little essays on the nature of privacy and how we feel about it and (don't) protect it.

Arbitrary Stupid Goal, by Tamara Shopsin. Memoir by daughter of the infamous New York City grocery/restaurant owner Kenny Shopsin. I still hope to write about this one. It was a crazy ride.

Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give, by Ada Calhoun. Surprisingly good and eerily right-on collection of essays about marriage.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, by Annie Spence. Lord, this book was so good, and it pissed me off SO bad. This is the book that everyone who a. loves books and b. wants to make people laugh, would LOVE to write. I can't hate Annie Spence for being better at loving books more and being funnier than me, though, them's just the breaks. She gave us a great book.

So there you have it. Some of my favorite books of the year that I didn't even write about. On to more laziness in 2018!

*I actually get some free time. But I don't always want to spend it blogging, I'll admit, especially since I feel my blog writing has been somewhat lackluster lately, and no one wants to spend time doing something that makes them feel lackluster. If I want to feel lackluster all I need to do is get up in the morning.


Sarah Perry's After the Eclipse: A Mother's Murder, a Daughter's Search.

This?

This is a very, very good book.

After the eclipseI started After the Eclipse thinking it was going to be another pretty standard true crime memoir. I didn't mind; even when true crime is standard I usually learn something when I read it. But after reading parts of The Hot One (which seemed to me to get a lot more press than this book got), I thought, huh, I've got to give the true crime a rest for a while. So I thought I'd skim this one and return it to the library.

So then I read the first 100 pages and it was stupendous. But then I got antsy because this month I had the goal of doing less reading and more writing,* and here I was ignoring everything else to read this book. So I read the last few chapters to see if they caught the murderer of Perry's mother, and then I thought, okay, I can just take this book back now, I got what I need.

And then I promptly just read the rest of it.

And I'm so glad I did. The main story here is Perry's narrative of the night her mother Crystal was killed in their house, when the author was 12 years old and sleeping just down the hall. She also provides details from her mother's childhood, the relationships between her many extended family members, and the subsequent details of how the crime was investigated by the police and spoken about in the community. In a later part of the book she relates the story of the rest of her "growing up"--with whom she had to live, how she fought to keep depression and despair at bay, and a growing realization of how anger and violence make their presence felt in communities and in families (as well as within individuals).

This is also, bar none, the most quietly clearsighted and horrifying take on the unequal power dynamics between men and women that I have read this year. I stuck a bookmark in the book every time the author made an obviously heartfelt and (to my mind) right-on observation about women and men, and when I was done there were a LOT of bookmarks. Here's one part I marked:

"From this distance, I can look back and see, objectively, that Mom was not model-perfect. She was thin, with flaming hair and pretty eyes, but she also had pale eyebrows and crowded teeth. It takes my sharpest concentration to see these imperfections; like many daughters, I will always consider my mother to be the pinnacle of beauty. And she was truly striking. In the small town of Bridgton, many people agreed.

After Mom's death, when the police interviewed Earl Gagnon--a friend of Tom's who worked at the Shop--he said, 'A lot of guys looked at her--pleasing to the eye, you know.' The full record of interviews, and the stories of other townspeople, back him up. There are too many to detail in full, but here is a partial list of men who, in the days and weeks and years following Mom's death, were known by police or rumored by others to have been attracted to her..."

And then there is a list of SIXTEEN men. And this is a partial list. In a small Maine community. Not that there is anything wrong with attraction, really, or finding a person attractive. But the list includes items like this:

"Lloyd Poulin: who mentioned Mom's death from the back of a Bridgton police car after being picked up for drunk and disorderly. He asked the cop, 'How old is her little girl now, sixteen or seventeen? Crystal was a slut, wasn't she? That daughter is a sweet little thing." (pp. 196-197.)

Nice.

But even after immersing herself in this story, in her story, in her mother's story, in that kind of quote, Perry still concludes the book with a gentle touch, and at the same time explains one of the biggest reasons I read true crime (I'm leaving out the name she gives here in case you read the book and would rather not have me tell you the killer's name):

"It would be easier to think he was just a monster, an aberration; it would make us all feel a lot safer, now that he's locked away. But I think it's a lot more likely that [he] was born with a natural tendency to violence, which worsened in a violent home, and easily found a target in a world where many men are trained to exert power over women. Punishing him should not prevent us from trying to understand how he was made. I'm glad [he] is in jail. But I'll be more glad when there are no more [of him]." (p. 327.)

True crime is not about monsters. It is about our communities, our neighbors, our families. I for one am staggered at Sarah Perry's book, and her subtle but very strong call for us to try and start figuring this stuff out.

This is a very good book.

*I use books as an anti-anxiety drug, along with Zebra Cakes, reading them when I'm down and don't feel like doing anything else, although I should really pull my act together and do something else.


Environmental writing is the scariest writing out there.

All through the month of September I read one True Crime book after another. Finally Mr. CR said, you have got to stop reading this stuff. (I think the subtext was: "you're freaking me out," but who knows? I've never been very good with subtext which is, let's face it, one of the reasons I prefer reading nonfiction.)

So then I took a little break and read the 2016 edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing, edited by Amy Stewart (a writer who I love, and whose book Flower Confidential I once raved about at Bookslut).

And it was a really great collection. (As promised.) But I kept finding little tidbits like this, about the retreat of Arctic ice and other climatic changes:

"We talked about future scenarios of what we began to call, simply, bad weather. Parts of the world will get much hotter, with no rain or snow at all. In western North America, trees will keep dying from insect and fungal invasions, uncovering more land that in turn will soak up more heat...the Arctic is shouldering the wounds of the world, wounds that aren't healing." (pp. 41-42.)

And this, about the possibility of a massive earthquake in the Pacific Northwest:

"The shaking from the Cascadia quake will set off landslides throughout the region--up to 30,000 of them in Seattle alone, the city's emergency-management office estimates. It will also induce a process called liquefaction, whereby seemingly solid ground starts behaving like a liquid, to the detriment  of anything on top of it...Then the wave will arrive, and the real destruction will begin.

Among natural disasters, tsunamis may be the closest to being completely unsurvivable. The only likely way to outlive one is not to be there when it happens: to steer clear of the vulnerable area in the first place, or get yourself to high ground as fast as possible. For the 71,000 people who live in Cascadia's inundation zone, that will mean evacuating in the narrow window after one disaster ends and before another begins..." (p. 254.)

Holy crap. Everyone's keeping that pretty quiet. I had never heard of the Cascadia subduction zone.

Now, all is not doom and gloom here. There is a wide variety of topics and styles, from straightforward reporting to memoir and even some humor. By all means you should read this collection--I count it among my best reads of the year.*

*Mr. CR read it and enjoyed it too, and that's saying something.


Labor Day Reading List 2017.

I certainly hope you enjoyed your Labor Day holiday. As you may or may not know, Labor Day is my favorite holiday. (Okay, I lie, Christmas is actually my favorite holiday, but the MINUTE Labor Day gets cookies, fudge, and as good a song as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" associated with it, then it will truly become my favorite holiday.)

So every year I like to look back at the blog and highlight any books I read that had to do with labor. Here's the list from the past year (links go to my reviews of the books).

Hill, Steven. Raw Deal: How the "Uber Economy" and Runaway Capitalism are Screwing American Workers.

Keizer, Garret. Getting Schooled.

Parker, Willie. Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice.

Simon, David: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.

Martin, Brett. Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution--From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

Moore, Anne Elizabeth. Threadbare: Clothes, Sex, and Trafficking.

Tomsky, Jacob. Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality.

Kaplan, James. Frank: The Voice. I'm including this bio of Frank Sinatra because it is so jam-packed with info about Sinatra's development of his instrument (his voice) and his financial prowess.

Franklin, Ruth. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. I'm also including this one because it is such an exploration of Jackson's work and development as a writer, as well as a parent.

Kidder, Tracy. A Truck Full of Money.

Hirshey, Gerri. Not Pretty Enough: The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown.

Brown, Chester. Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible. Because if prostitution isn't work, then by God, I don't know what is.

And here are the lists from previous years: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2009.