This week’s Nonfiction November topic (hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness) is to share 3 or more books on a single topic that we recommend, or books we want to know more about.
This year, the topic I’ve read the most about relates to the current state of our country politically. I can recommend quite a few books on this topic, from different viewpoints. In fact nearly everything I’ve read this year seems to relate to this topic.
Giant in the Senate is Al Franken’s story of his journey from comedy to the U.S. Senate. Franken is a terrific writer, and he really gives us the inside view into what it’s like, not only to be on Saturday Night Live (which I was fascinated by) but also to be a U.S. Senator. He tells of the day to day work, the challenges of campaigning, and how things actually get done in the Capitol. But more importantly, his book is a window into the dysfunction of our government. It’s also very current – published in May 2017, Franken writes about having a seat at Trump’s inauguration and what that’s meant for the country (and could mean going forward). Franken has a great sense of humor about his job and this was a pleasure to read while also very insightful.
A related book on this topic was The Daily Show: An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff, and Guests. I expected this book to be about Jon Stewart and the workings of a daily television show, and it was. But more than that, it was an incredible look at the last 20 years in politics and current events, from the 2000 election to 9/11 to the Iraq War, all the way through Stewart’s retirement in 2015. This book was a chance to relive all the things that made The Daily Show so groundbreaking – but it also highlighted some of its problems like the lack of diversity in cast and crew. I didn’t think the format would work for me – it’s basically a lot of segments from interviews with various cast members, writers, and production staff. You would think that would feel disjointed, but it doesn’t. This book will remind you how critically important the Daily Show was throughout the George W. Bush years. And if it’s less relevant today (though still good!), that’s because it paved the way for Steven Colbert, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and many others.
Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, is a memoir about growing up in the Appalachian region in Kentucky and Ohio, and his struggle with poverty, the addiction of his mother, and family instability. He writes of the pervasive effects of trauma in these communities, and how these families are caught in a cycle of trauma, addiction and poverty that affects multiple generations (while noting that many of these problems are of their own making as well). Vance covers a wide range of topics in this memoir, but ultimately it’s the story of his own family and his own experience. His book is important simply because it’s a window into communities most of us don’t know how to deal with.
Less recommended, but still interesting, in Strangers in their Own Land, researcher Arlie Russell Hochschild decided to study Americans living in a rural, low-income, and predominantly Republican area (rural Louisiana). She was trying to understand why so many people in the country are voting directly against their own interests. These are the people who are most in need of social services, yet they are the very people who vote for those who would strip public benefits and remove the very government supports that could help them, while implementing economic policies that only benefit the wealthy.
There are three other books I highly recommend that touch indirectly on the U.S. and its political situation. Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir My Beloved World, although it ends around the time of her appointment to the Supreme Court, is certainly a commentary on the issues facing the country in recent years.
Similarly, Diane Guerrero’s memoir about her parents’ deportation, In the Country We Love is a powerful look at what it’s like to be an immigrant, or the child of immigrants, in this country. I think that is so important for us to understand now, when immigrants are being demonized (and deported) by our President.
Finally, The Secret History of Wonder Woman was a real treat, in that the book provides a century of U.S. history relating to women’s rights. I wasn’t expecting that from a book about a comic book character. If you’re interested in the history of feminism, I highly recommend this book — which occasionally gets bogged down in details but was absolutely fascinating. Growing up with the Lynda Carter TV show, I had no idea how much thought went into the character, and how controversial she was.
Those are some recommendations if you want to get a handle on how our country got to where it is today. What would you recommend?