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

Rating: 3 stars

Cliff Notes: So many social justice issues in this memoir. While hiking with our dogs during the days I was reading this book, I found myself shouting at Bixby and his friend about some of these concerns.

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

Full Summary: I never put details in my reviews about what the book is about because seriously – just Google it or read the back of the book to find out what it’s about. But I am including the book details from Smarsh’s website because I think we get bogged down in terms like “Social Justice” and turned off by tag-lines like “Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.” Honestly, I am not even sure I am using the term “social justice” correctly. Read this summary don’t get outraged – I triple dog dare you. Then read the book, and YOU explain where they could have “just done XYZ to get out of the situation.”

Note: Bold type below is mine for EMPHASIS so we PAY ATTENTION.

Smarsh was born a fifth-generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side, the child of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. In HEARTLAND, she introduces readers to a compelling cast of characters through the generations—grandmothers who act as second mothers, farmers who work themselves to the bone, builders who can’t afford their own homes, children who move from school to school. Smarsh maps her family’s impoverished lives against the destruction of the working class that the Reagan era wrought: the demise of the family farm, the dismantling of public health care, the defunding of public schools, and wages so stagnant that full time laborers could no longer pay the bills. Readers will learn what Smarsh did: the working poor in America are sold a lie. Working hard in this country probably won’t get you ahead after all.

Now I must climb off my soap box and get to work. Let me leave you with this one gem from the book:

What you don’t transmute, you transmit.

By |2019-12-12T19:18:38-05:00August 29th, 2019|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

It Happened On the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace – Rye Barcott

Rating: DNF after about 15%

Cliff Notes: I could see myself coming back to this book someday in a different season of life, but it is not working for me now.

Full Summary: A friend recommended this to me after she read my review of Tattooist of Auschwitz. She said it has her interested in the author’s latest non profit – With Honor.

“He is trying to recruit a new generation of leaders and boy do we need it.”

My friend in her recommendation to me

I agree wholeheartedly that we need it. And Rye Barcott certainly seems like a capable young man. However, my reading life is to fill needs in my life and right now that means an escape. It is not always like that, but right now that is where I am. Yes, I am making this hardship in another country about me, but it is my blog, right?!

I understand that is a selfish way to look at the world, but I am no good to anyone if I run myself into the ground trying to improve the lives of others. I heard someone say that we need to give from our overflow, otherwise what we give may be toxic. Right now I have no overflow so I am trying to take care of that before I can hop on the Save the World Train.

I am leaning into light and fluffy reads, not books about a “troubled youth” who then got a full scholarship to UNC. My “troubled youth” cannot even remember to take pants to football practice. I know we need to let kids fail so they can learn lessons in a “safe” place (forgetting pants now vs. larger stakes later in life), but I just feel like a parenting failure All The Time. And the last thing I want to be reminded of when I am trying to fill that tank and get some overflow to share is those feelings of failure.

It Happened On the Way to War: A Marine's Path to Peace Rye Barcott
By |2019-08-18T08:49:14-04:00August 24th, 2019|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle – Mary J. MacLeod

Rating: 3 stars (would have picked 3.5 if Goodreads allowed half stars)

Cliff Notes: This was a sweet book. Perfect for this crazy season of work.

Full Summary: I hit the jackpot when I picked up this paperback at a book sale for only $1. As I mentioned before, I am in a season of work that is BANANAS. I have dropped non-fiction and the sci-fi I was going to take a chance on got shuttled straight to Bixby’s nightstand. When I read I want to escape, not learn, be motivated or improved in any way. Just. Check. Out.

Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle  Mary J. MacLeod

This book was absolutely up to the task. Each chapter was a stand alone – although there were a few threads that ran through several stories. This made it easy to pick up and put down when I only had a few minutes (translation: fell asleep after 3 pages).

Plus there was the most delightful character, Mary. She had a habit of mixing up words that was hysterical. Probably because it was really frustrating to her husband, yet did not bother her in the LEAST. Here is a sample:

“Then it will go off again, takin yon body with it. What’s the point o’ that, I’m wonderin?”

“It’s for explicity,” said Mary knowledgeably.



There was a puzzled pause, then Archie sighed. “Ach, the woman! I think she means ‘publicity’.”

“Aye,” said Mary, unperturbed as usual.

By |2019-12-12T19:19:24-05:00August 23rd, 2019|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE – Phil Knight

Rating: 3 stars

Cliff Notes: I liked how he talked in this book about the struggles and what he might have changed or identified mistakes.

Full Summary: I had lots of misconceptions about the history of Nike – it seems to always summarized as a overnight sensation story about Bill Boweman, a waffle iron, and his protege named Phil.

Not so much, my friends. This is definitely worth the read.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE Phil Knight
By |2019-12-12T19:21:04-05:00August 13th, 2019|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

A House in the Sky – Amanda Lindhout, Sara Corbett

Rating: 4 stars

Cliff Notes: Holy shit. Need to deep dive this.

Full Summary: Listened to this audiobook in 1 sitting on my way back from vacation. I was actually glad I had unpacking and chores to do when I got home so I could finish this up. Then I ran out of chores and literally just sat on the porch and listened to the last 2 hours.

Wow. As with my fascination with concentration camps, I love these types of memoirs. I wonder how I would respond in a dire situation like this. I want to think I would be resilient, smart, and brave like this author, or even Elie Wiesel. Or would I just give up and blow away with a strong wind?

A House in the Sky Amanda Lindhout  Sara Corbett
By |2019-12-12T19:22:37-05:00August 5th, 2019|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

Rating: 3 stars

Cliff Notes: I thought this would be better than it was. I checked a couple times to see if it was YA. I do love that it is based on a true couple.

Full Summary: I am the first person to say I have a thing for World War II novels, specifically related to concentration camps. When I was in 8th grade I did a speech on concentration camps for the National Speech contest.

Side Note – I still remember a certain classmate of mine sitting in the front row rolling her eyes, sucking her teeth, and otherwise ridiculing me while I delivered my speech to about a hundred of my 13-year old peers.

Why are kids so mean to each other? Especially girls. We can do better.

Anyhow, I have a weird fascination about the camps. So I of course had this on my TBR as soon as I saw the publication date. While there was a hopeful note that ran throughout the novel, it seemed too simplistic for me.

After I finished, I did some looking into the story and it turns out they are a real couple! THAT makes me want to do a deep dive into the real story.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz Heather Morris
By |2019-12-12T19:23:10-05:00August 3rd, 2019|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” – Zora Neale Hurston

Rating: 3 stars*

Cliff Notes: *Full disclosure on my rating – I did not read any of the appendices.

Full Summary: I originally put this book on my TBR because Flea announced it to be the inaugural choice for his book club. I so badly want to be cool, like Red Hot Chili Peppers super fan cool, but honestly – I am more of an Air Supply block party kind of a girl. So my dreams of Flea seeing my review and rocketing me to fame (or my husband not thinking I am a total music dork) were quickly dashed because I was disappointed by this book. Here’s why.

The introduction of the book tells the story. And not from Cudjo Kewis/Oluale Kossula’s point of view – it is more of a 3rd person telling of it. The last third of the book is appendices. Then the middle of the book is Cudjo / Oluale telling it in his own words. That middle section would have been more powerful if it would have let the reader unfold his story. My understanding is that some readers balked at the difficulty they had reading in Cudjo / Oluale’s vernacular. But that is what made it land for me. I felt like the introduction almost spoiled the story for me.

All of that aside, this is a book everyone needs to read. Especially white people. ESPECIALLY white people who say racism is in the past. This was demonstrated for me recently when I was at a community meeting where participants run the spectrum. There were whites, blacks, Native Americans, Samoans, and more. There were homeless people, tech company founders; men and women; teens and retirees.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo Zora Neale Hurston

About a third of the way into the meeting the police came in. The tension in the room changed. Some participants tried to listen to the speaker while some looked nervously between the police and their friends. What I noticed was the difference on the faces of the white people vs the black people. The white people in the room were curious: I wonder what brings the officers in here? The black people had a mix of emotions.

One black man in his 70s looked at the ground and did not look up or look at anyone else until the officers had left. He was unusually quiet the rest of the meeting.

One young black man in his early 20s kept his eyes forward until the police officers approached his table, then he lifted his chin and met the officers with a steely gaze of defiance barely covering fear. His chin was set and I could see his clenched jaw from hallway across the room. Then the officer removed the white homeless guy sitting behind him and you could see him visibly relax into his chair. Later in the meeting he commented on his fear and how rattled he was.

That is why first person accounts of slavery are so important. We cannot pretend it did not happen or that former slaves and their families need to “get over it.” As a white woman I felt – and really could almost smell and touch – the fear in that room. Why are there people who fear another human being like that? That is not ok. Sweeping the experience under the rug actually perpetuates the idea that the problem does not exist. That is not ok.

We need for conversations to take place. Hard conversations. We need to read books that are hard to read – for writing and for content. If you think it is hard to read about slavery, imagine being the slave. How can we not witness that. To hide it to condone.

By |2019-12-12T19:23:23-05:00July 30th, 2019|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life’s Biggest Questions – Knox McCoy

Rating: 4 stars

Cliff Notes: I laughed out loud several times, which is always a huge endorsement, but I wish I knew this book was going to come at me with church as much as it did. I also did not follow all of the foot notes because they are a total pain in the ass on a Kindle.

Full Summary: Full disclosure – I am a HUGE fan of the author’s podcast, “The Podcast with Knox and Jamie.” I listen each week to the episode on the MORNING it drops into my feed. Not the DAY – the MORNING. I have been to the live show twice and even made my husband attend once. I bought merchandise from their store for myself and my sister. While the merch I have is not a purple cape and black Velcro sneakers, I have drunk the Podcast Kool-Aid. I say all this to let you know that I was going to make this a positive review no matter what.

But you guys – I really loved this book! I highlighted sections, I texted my sister in the middle of reading it, I rode the stationary bike longer than intended so I could read more of this book! Probably because I think I am so much like Knox. I relate more to Knox than his probably-more-fun, super extroverted, cohost, Jamie Golden.

I want to “seize control over as much as I can. It’s the most charming of attributes, I know, and it makes me an extreme joy to work with, for, or under.”

…”someone who is bilingual in snark and cynicism…”

Just a few ways I am like Knox McCoy, author of this gem.
The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life’s Biggest Questions Knox McCoy

I also agree with what Knox says about how introverts perceive the people in their lives: We don’t dislike you guys, but man, is it a bummer sometimes when we have to talk to you.

In conclusion (there is a super funny chapter about conclusions in this book as well), I want to fully endorse this book – a Green Light, if I am to completely plagiarize the popular Popcast segment. Know that it has church and pop culture woven together with Knox’s biggest life questions, but you will not alight on fire if you are not super into the religious stuff. I also strongly encourage you to listen to the Popcast each week!

By |2019-12-12T19:23:36-05:00July 28th, 2019|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Lucky – Alice Sebold

Rating: 4 stars

Cliff Notes: I am not sure how I missed that this was a memoir of her rape as a Syracuse freshman. Perhaps not a great choice for a Beach Week read, but I am glad I did.

Lucky Alice Sebold

Full Summary: I am glad this was relatively short because I could not put it down, and it was intense. I picked it up because The Lovely Bones is a favorite of mine – a book I kept even after reading it. I kept waiting for the twist where the rapist would go free on a technicality and was so grateful how it all turned out.

Then I was confused when there were still about 50 pages of the book left but her trial was over. THEN OH MY GOSH. I do not pretend this is a spoiler-free blog, but on this one I am going to leave this as just an OH MY GOSH. I truly think that last part of the book is the lesson that we are supposed to learn from this memoir. How we all come to – and leave from – each situation differently.

After I finished reading this book, I also spent time thinking about Sebold’s current relationship with her mother. It is not a spoiler to say her mom was unhelpful almost to the point of harmful, then there was such a heartfelt message to her mother in the acknowledgments. Was there a reckoning that happened? What does her mom think about how she was portrayed in the book? I plan to do a deep dive on this the next time I cannot sleep in the middle of the night. I shall report back.

By |2019-12-12T19:28:25-05:00June 27th, 2019|Mental Well-being|0 Comments
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