Friday, September 02, 2016

Book Log: August 2016

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them.

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

38) 8/8: Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Confession: I had requested several books through interlibrary loan since my library didn't own copies. Just my luck, three came in all at once, while I was also trying to finish a couple other books with nearing due dates and long wait lists. While I had every intention of reading them in the order that they were due (three consecutive dates), I began to realize I would have to triage. Alas, Sarah Bessey's books got the boot and this took precedence (I still hope to return to Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts down the road, though).

As you learned in my June book log, Nadia struck a chord with me. Her writing style flows easily (although her language can be a bit salty, so if that will be a huge distraction for you, perhaps it's better to pass). This book is a powerful memoir of how this woman found herself a tattooed pastor of a Lutheran church. She also highlights different members of her congregation, being frank with her misgivings and judgmental attitudes and how she has been transformed by being sensitive and willing to admit her failures; through this, we see growth in the midst of her vulnerability.

I love stories like this. Here we see Nadia having emerged from addition, finding meaning and purpose, and turning around to reach out to other misfits. In her church, she creates an environment where those who are struggling to find a place where they are welcome and not judged are entering and finding community.

39) 8/20: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
This was chosen as the selection for my neighborhood book club to fulfill the classics category.

I've read Age of Innocence a couple times, so I was interested in seeing how this one would compare. Wharton likes taking on high society and examining the behavior of those members.

This book centers on Lily Bart. She is a sympathetic character to a point, insofar as we learn she is an orphan whose mother has only trained her to capitalize on her beauty - Lily has no skills or use outside of being desirable. However, while she needs to marry well in order to maintain her preferred manner of living, subconsciously she appears to be self-sabotaging relationships just when success seems imminent. We get to witness Lily's motivations and see what she's made of. This book is an interesting character study, and it led to good conversations when we met to discuss it.

40) 8/29: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
This book was so tough to read, in the sense that it reveals the gritty underside of cities and I'm trying to figure out what to do now - how to process all this information and have it lead to action, in whatever small way. It's enlightening and I highly recommend it. I'll try to flesh it out more, but I'm still processing, so forgive me if it seems jumbled.

The author uses Milwaukee as an Every City, of sorts. With that city as his lens to the greater issues across the country, Desmond reveals how evictions play a huge role in the lives of lower income individuals and families.

That might make it sound dry and clinical, and while the author is a researcher with over 50 pages of notes, you get invested in individual stories. We follow several different individuals/families facing evictions as well as two different landlords interacting with and evicting various tenants. We learn what has led to the evictions, the sorts of places they're being forced to rent - properties that can have serious issues but which are essentially equivalent in rent to better kept places in other parts of town - the percentage of their income dedicated to rent, how drastically the likelihood of eviction goes up if there are children or if someone reports domestic assault, how your race and sex increase the chances of eviction as well:
"If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out."
It's not surprising to see how evictions can lead other areas of your life to spiral out of control. If you're consumed with juggling an eviction, you might be more distracted on the job as you contest it or worry about what the future holds, or you might miss more work trying to find another place. Relocating farther away can lead to additional problems, especially if your transportation is unreliable. Then you lose your job, which means you lose your next home -- it's a downward spiral. While you're homeless or transitioning between places, you may also be paying high rates for your possessions in storage, only to have to weigh keeping ownership over your few belongings or making a rent or utility payment.

The book is written in third person, and as I was reading, I kept wondering how he gained access. He does answer this in the follow-up information, but I will allow you to remain in the dark until you read it for yourself.

You may recall how struck I was by Just Mercy (review in my May book log). One difference this book has is that, while Just Mercy reveals injustice, there is also hope in the accounts of some people who were released after being shown to have been wrongly convicted or finding justice when it's discovered they received harsh sentences that didn't line up with their crime; we see changes in the courts that should lessen future disparity. This book isn't as uplifting at the end, although Desmond does offer some possible solutions. And that's what this is - a rallying cry. Desmond is bringing attention to how serious evictions are, how important home security is to so many areas of our lives. He makes a strong, convicting case for universal housing vouchers, as well as other possible solutions. It's worth a read -- I highly recommend it.