Book Reviews – October 2017 Part II

By | October 23, 2017

Ever since finishing my book, I’ve felt adrift and wrong. This happens to me at the end of every big project — after graduating law school, after paying off my loans, after officially retiring — defeat takes over. I always expect to feel a sense of pride that never comes. It doesn’t help that there’s a voice inside my head that absolutely despises me. No matter where I go, there I am. No matter what I do, I’m still me.

Emails go unanswered. Texts go unanswered. The voice in my head trying to comfort me goes unanswered. I’ve gone through this enough times to know that it will pass. To help, I read more, retreating into different worlds.

So, yeah, here are some more book reviews.

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

I love Barack Obama with my entire soul, but I found this book — his first book — terribly boring. As the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, a publisher offered him a book deal. This was before he became well known. He tells the story of his childhood and life through law school. Yawn.

Here are a few parts I underlined.

Like most first-time authors, I was filled with hope and despair upon the book’s publication-hope that the book might succeed beyond my youthful dreams, despair that I had failed to say anything worth saying.

I have to admit I had fleeting fantasies of my book, Operation Enough!, funding my life for a couple of years until I wrote another book. I also had terrible visions of people rolling their eyes in disgust at yet another personal finance book. In the end, like most things in life, it fell somewhere in the middle. Probably. I actually have no idea how many copies I’ve sold or what people think of it.

If one is a fish, one does not try to fly–one swims with other fish. One only knows what one knows. Perhaps if I were young today, I would not have accepted these things. Perhaps I would only care about my feelings, and falling in love. But that’s not the world I was raised in. I only know what I have seen. What I have not seen doesn’t make my heart heavy.

I don’t remember which relative of his he quotes here, but it’s an older female one in Africa talking about how the men chose their wives back in the day, without the woman’s input or consent. What a time to be alive that we can be picky and choosy with the type of life we want to live and the type of people we want to associate with. Our potential is so much bigger than anyone could have even dreamed of a few generations ago.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

One man’s story of his life growing up in Appalachia. It’s a tale of poverty, violence, disappointment and strife. But he’s a hard worker and eventually gets into Yale Law School.

I’m not sure how much we can extrapolate from his book about others that live in this very poor region of the United States. He talks about jobs going unfilled because people are just lazy. He also explains something about those who voted overwhelmingly against Barack Obama. Obama’s existence threw in their face that they were failures. This country is a meritocracy. If this black man who talks so well and attends ivy leagues could rise to the top, why haven’t they? It’s easier to blame others and to concoct conspiracy theories that he’s a secret Muslim than to make the herculean effort to change their own lives. For a party that likes to preach about personal responsibility, it’s pure hypocrisy.

What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.

This book just made me angry. He writes well, but I still don’t understand that world at all. We get the government we deserve. The current government we have is certainly the government these people he portrays deserve.

Whom Not to Marry: Time-Tested Advice from a Higher Authority by Pat Connor

This book is written by the priest mentioned in this article that I really like. It’s not overly religious, but I should not have read it at this stage in my life. There’s nobody in my life to ponder about. Here’s the only thing I highlighted from it.

Envy is a cruel motivator and the most useless of all the vices. It brings no pleasure. It only corrodes your spirit.

My spirit does feel a bit corroded.

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

I’ve read this book before, but checked it out again because I’ve been having a hard time being nice to myself lately, beating myself up for past wrongs and current failings. It didn’t really help because I don’t like the way the writer writes.

But she spouts wisdom. Self compassion is an incredibly valuable skill. Plus, it’s free! The things you tell yourself have an odd way of coming true. I don’t know how to do better.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Oh man. This book was hard to read. It’s an ambitious novel, telling the tale of generations of a family over more than a hundred years through to the present day. We start in Africa with two sisters. One marries a white man and lives in a castle in Africa. The other is sold into slavery and shipped off to America.

The strong pick on the weak and only very, very recently has this changed. Men controlled women. White people controlled black people. All people controlled animals.

This is another reminder that we as a species have made so much progress in such a short amount of time. It’s a good reminder when I despair that the world is going to shit. It’s actually a pretty amazing time to be alive.

27 thoughts on “Book Reviews – October 2017 Part II

      1. walter

        oh man that sounds sooo nice right now! even before Oprah went down under a few years back i’ve always wanted to go for an extended visit. after reading your wistful musings, i was going to suggest taking some vitamin D, but i think vitamin A for Australia sounds much more appetizing! perhaps arrange a Club Thrifty Girl fan meeting down under? a quarterly meeting. meaning staying there an entire quarter.

  1. Jeanna

    I always read your emails. You may feel like a failure, but you’re an inspiration to me! I don’t know who you’re comparing yourself to that makes you feel all sorts of inadequate, but that is where you need to focus. I promise whoever that is doesn’t have everything you have.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      It’s the depression speaking. I’m already feeling better than I did when I wrote this. I don’t think I’m comparing myself to anyone in particular, but perhaps the ideal version of myself in my head that doesn’t exist. Thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement. I really need them!

  2. Leo

    Hi! I just wanted to say that I really enjoy your book reviews. As a new mom of a 7 month old, I have barely any time to read a short article let alone a book. I do have a list of books I like to read in the near future, I hope. So, I really enjoy your book reviews and your “highlighted” sections. Thank you and looking forward to your future newsletters!

  3. Graham

    Hey Anita. I read some of your book this morning. It makes me think. Unlike you, I don’t read lots of books; I have a few books that I read from again and again when I have a spare few minutes. Your book is now in my roster. There is definitely no eye-rolling when I read your words. Can’t wait for the next book. Keep smiling Anita; the best is yet to come.

  4. veronica

    I’m a little concerned about some of what you’ve said in this post. I’m concerned, because I recognize those thoughts and on this road you’re currently treading on, (unless I’ve misinterpreted), you must be careful, because ‘there be dragons!”. May I make a book suggestion? One that has been very helpful to me when I’ve been in a negative frame of mind is You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought. Yes, it’s a self-help book. Think of it as medicine, like taking Neocitrin when you have the flu.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Thanks for the words, Veronica. There be dragons! Indeed.

      Depression is a lying bitch. When you’re in the cloud, you think you’ve always felt this way and you’ll always feel this way. Being older and wiser helps. This too shall pass. Reading my old journals helps. This too shall pass.

      Book suggestion is on the list. Thanks.

    2. Anjani

      Let me read the book, thank you Veronica for the suggestion, thank you Anita for the post..

  5. Lizzy

    I read Hillbilly Elegy. While I liked it as a memoir, I disagreed with the author’s social analysis. I think that poverty leads to learned helplessness, rather than the other way around.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Yes, you’ve nailed on the head what I thought was wrong with the book and couldn’t articulate. Thanks for this. Poverty leads to learned helplessness. It’s still frustrating to watch.

  6. Elizabeth

    I’d like to offer a counterpoint to your critique of Hillbilly Elegy. As someone with ties to the rural Midwest who now lives on the urban East Coast, I’ve recommended it to several people as a way to “see the other side.” There’s a deep cultural divide in our country because both sides have trouble understanding the other. I thought this book was a great way of showing some of the struggles of Vance’s area of the country through the lens of his experiences. Especially for parts of the country that may feel like their way of life is “declining,” that can spur a lot of anger and hatred. This is in no means an excuse for our current political situation, which I 100% think is shitty, but I find that trying to empathize with others who have disparate experiences can be really helpful and go a long way toward bridging that cultural gap.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      The decline of unions and those types of jobs can be a devastating blow, sure. I could see that anger and hatred coming through with his writing. And you’re absolutely right that neither side understands the other.

  7. Lisa

    Try a few books by Pia Mellody next. She can help you find relief from that inner voice.

  8. Lynne

    I too expect more of a sense of…pride, accomplishment, ability to rest on my laurels when I finish something big. I should know better, because that doesn’t happen for me either – it’s just, on to the next thing. And if there is no Next Thing slotted into my plans, that’s hard. Going from having focus and momentum to…not…is a bit of a shock to the system.

    I do wonder if I can learn to be a little less obsessive and driven, and more able to stop and just enjoy being in the moment. Sometimes I do stop and tell myself to do that. Being driven and future-oriented can be a good thing – I don’t think I would be able to achieve FIRE without that – but I need to live in the now, too.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Yes, you have explained exactly my feelings! Thanks for the description. Let me know if you find a way to do that and if you enjoy it when you do.

  9. steve poling

    A bicycle is unstable when it is not moving. You’ve finished your book. Congrats. When is the sequel coming out? Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Get moving. You need the gyroscopic effects of progress toward a goal to stabilize your mood.

  10. Sweta

    I just finished a book called “the elephant chaser’s daughter” about a girl who grew up in the Dalit caste in India. Luckily her father sent her to school which is unheard of in their community and family so she was able to dramatically turn her life around.

  11. Neena

    Just found your blog and have been reading it. If you still lived in Chicago I’d invite you out for a coffee and chat! Thanks for your transparency and perspective.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I’m glad you didn’t let this negative nattering of a post scare you away. Most of the time, this place is quite positive and fun. 🙂 Welcome!

  12. zeejaythorne

    Hillbilly Elegy is one man’s dismissal that he’s not like those “poor folks over there.” I couldn’t stomach his disdain and ended my journey into it quickly. His view of the causes of poverty are incredibly narrow and mean-spirited. Not all of us can get out. I got out because I was smart, but very very lucky. Many women I know from back home could not.

    But I am definitely going to see if the library has the self-compassion book. I need it right now. It’s been a hard year.


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