Year 2, Book 20

20. Talk to the snail: Ten commandments for understanding the French by Stephen Clarke
A comedic and somewhat snarky look at French culture written by a British ex-pat living in France. Tres amusent. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 2, Book 19

19. The Call of the Weird by Louis Theroux
This book is somewhat of a follow-up story to a series of BBC documentaries produced about 10 years ago called Weird Weekends with Louis Theroux. In the book Theroux goes back and revisits the people/groups that investigated in the television series. I’m not sure that weird is the accurate term as he looked at such things as the porn industry, the rap industry, legal brothels, UFO believers, and white supremacists. I didn’t find the book that interesting or that informative. I think I might have enjoyed it more had I actually seen any of the television series and viewed the book as somewhat of a where are they now type deal, but I’ve never seen the show and thus I didn’t really enjoy it. I was interested in watching the show though. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be available. Oh well.

Year 2, Book 18

18. Disobedience by Naomi Alderman
This book was a fairly quick read, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It is the fictional tale of a woman who left Orthodox Judaism and then has to confront her past when she returns to the community for the funeral of her father, who was the exalted rabbi of said community. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 2, Book 17

17. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I decided to read this book because I’ve never read any Steinbeck, which is probably some sort of crime for someone who reads as much literature as I do, and I got interested in this subject when I read the Worst Hard Time. Unfortunately the Grapes of Wrath was not what I was expecting. And I totally didn’t get the end, or at least I hope I’m interpreting the end wrong because otherwise it’s super creepy. I know it’s a classic, but I only give it a 4 out of 10.

Year 2, Book 16

16. Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett
This first half of this book covers the arrest and imprisonment of Elaine Bartlett, who was sentenced to 20 years to life for a first time drug offense under New York state’s Rockefeller drug laws. These laws state that any class A-1 drug offense results in a minimum sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
The second half the book chronicles the 3 years after her release from prison and her struggles to make it on the outside. It gives an excellent look at the problems and issues that most prisoners face once they are released. Particularly anyone who has done significant time. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 2, Book 15

15. The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
This book was a bit too absurdist for my taste. There were several very poigant things that happened in the book and I liked the ideas behind some of the stuff and the way some of it was handled. There were certain lines in the book that reoccurred throughout the book that I found quite meaningful, but there was a whole lot of absurd things that happened and some of the poignant things that happened in a way became absurd, which rather ruined them for me. So I only give this book a 6 out of 10.

Year 2, Book 14

14. Four Little Blessings by Merrillee Whren
Well actually at the time I read this it was still a manuscript because my mom wanted me to edit it before she sent it off to her editor, but it’s still a book just not quite in published form yet. Again it’s my mom’s book, so I’m not going to rate it because that’s just weird.

Year 2, Book 13

13. Random family : love, drugs, trouble, and coming of age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.

An incredible and heartbreaking true story following the lives of one extended family in the Bronx. The story spans at least 17 years as the initial protagonist that you meet has a baby towards the beginning of the story who is 16 when it ends. Although I gather the author was not personally following them the whole time. Based on her acknowledgements at the end of the book, it appears she initially set out to cover the trial of one of the people in the book and wound up involved with and writing about these people that were connected to him. As the previously mentioned kid was 4 when he went to trial I gather that the author was only personally involved for at most 12 years.

I love books along these lines and this one was exceptional. It was different from a lot of the other ones I’ve read because they usually only follow the people for one year, especially the ones based in schools. Plus many of the authors include themselves and their reactions and experiences in the story. This author did not do that. She made it completely about those she was observing.

As I said it was a heartbreaking book because of seeing everything that all of these people go through, and watching them make one poor decision after another, but knowing that there are so many forces against them and that most of them really just don’t know how to do any better. Because this book follows these people for so long you get to see at least 3 generations of people from several families and you can see how the poverty, and the poor decision making and horrible lives have been passed down. And reading something like this you know that anyone who can manage to make a better life for themselves is an incredible person because the odds that face these people are incredible. Most of them have no decent role models particularly in their parents and the systems that are designed to help them are often a joke, and you can see the kids wind up struggling in the exact same ways their parents did because they never learned what they needed to do in life to “make it”. Stuff like that is why it irks me so much when people just expect that everyone in the “ghetto” could be living a great middle class life if they just managed to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, but how do you do that if you’ve never even been told that you have bootstraps?

Two exceptionally sad things in the book that broke my heart involve the same little girl (a cousin of the one mentioned above). She winds up moving to Troy, NY with her mother, but her mother can’t break free of the Bronx and consistently goes back and forth for awhile and at one point talks about moving back permanently at which point the little girl says that she doesn’t want to go back because she likes the color red and she wants to be able to wear the color red. That any child should have to worry about what color clothes they wear because of gangs in their neighborhood is just so horrendous that I can’t even think about it.

And late in the book, this same girl gets kicked out of school for consistent misbehavior and is required to go see a counselor as part of her probation. The counselor tells her she needs to control her anger and the little girl says I know and I want to, but I don’t know how. The counselor basically blows her off and the mother actually realizing what her daughter said tries get the counselor to help, but again the counselor blows them off. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Because the little girl has never had anyone teach her how to act and has seen incredible amounts of violence in her short life. And no knows how or cares enough to really help.

The book was published in 2003, which means it’s been probably almost 5 years since the family’s story ended in the book, so when I finished I really wanted to know what’s happened since then, but am certain that it would only be more of the same, which is the really sad part.

I give the book a 9 out of 10.