“Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah

This weekend after a long spell of mediocre books, I finished “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah and I was moved to recommend this book to the readers of my blog.   The book is a series of short stories about a “colored” boy growing up in South Africa.

You probably know Trevor as the 33 year old host of “The Daily Show”- a funny comedian from South Africa who loves to challenge the political status quo.  But did you know that his birth in 1984 was actually considered a crime?  Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black South African mother at a time when such a union was punishable under the “Immorality Act of 1927” with up to five years in prison.

Trevor’s stories are sharp edged snapshots of his life.  They explain the culture and thinking of a bi-racial young man growing up in post apartheid South Africa.  And they are hilarious.  My favorite short story was called “Trevor, Pray.”

In this story, Trevor explains that he grew up in a world run by women; his mother, his grandmother and his great grandmother, Koko who was well into her nineties, stooped, frail and completely blind.  His home did not have running water and so he had to use an outhouse which he hated because he was afraid of the flies that resided at the bottom of the pile.  One afternoon he decided to forgo the outhouse and use newspaper – “like a puppy”.  He hysterically describes the act as a “powerful experience” which came to a close when he realized his blind great grandmother was in the room with him.  She was unable to see him, but she began to smell something and she proceeds to call out to anyone in the house to explain this smell.  Trevor decides to hide both himself and his “output” from his grandmother but later has to pay the price when they determine the house is bewitched with a demon.  “Help us!  Pray, Trevor.  Pray to God to kill the demon!”  Trust me when I say he uses much more colorful language and this short story will make you laugh out loud.

In the end, this book is a tribute to his mother, a single woman who raised him to believe in thinking big and following your dreams.  His mother was a fiercely independent and religious woman and the final chapter recounts the terror she faced and overcame at the hands of her abusive second husband.

This book has it all.  It’s funny, well written, appreciative and will give you a good look at what it was like to grow up as a young bi-racial boy in South Africa.

 

 

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“Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance – Does it really explain how Trump won the election?

I pride myself on reading books that are relevant and significant.  That’s not to say I don’t like an occasional beach book but my ears perk up when I hear somebody really debating about a book.  Discussion books are my favorite.

When my Minneapolis book group talked about reading “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance, the conversation got so heated that a few of my friends refused to read it.  Apparently this book was going to explain to my liberal minded friends just how the hell Donald Trump took the election away from HRC by appealing to the blue collar workers that live in the Rust Belt states.

My own political views tend to be liberal but they have been challenged over the last few years as my adult children have become political.  My son leans to the right and my daughter to the left.  In my typical consensus building style, I try to hear them both out and in the process I have sharpened my own view which has been influenced by both of them but has shifted me from the middle left to more smack dab in the middle.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is a memoir written by JD Vance who grew up in Middleton Ohio to an alcoholic and drug abusing mother in a poor and dysfunctional home.  The first part of the book paints the picture of his young life and the challenges that he overcame.  Ultimately he moves in with his grandparents and it’s with this stable home environment that he finally reaches his potential. He earns good grades, goes on to college and Yale Law school and now finds himself among the country’s elite.

It’s not until the second half of the book that his disillusionment with Democratic “Obama” politics becomes clear.  He worked himself through college via the military and low paying entry level jobs but saw other people abusing the welfare system.   And honestly, his rant felt like one I would give to my own children.  It’s basically to work hard and rely on yourself and not the government to hand things out to you.With hard work and dedication you can achieve anything.  Who can disagree with that?

So, the question is:  Does this book explain why Trump won the election?  The answer to me is yes.  I think it explains how an entire culture has become disillusioned with the state of the country and blamed one leader or one party.  And since the election was so close, those folks that want less government and more capitalism got what they wanted.  And they got a tough talking renegade leader to see them through this change.

The book is entertaining, easy to read and offers an insightful view of a community of people that we don’t often get to read about.  Don’t be too alarmed that it’s overly political and frankly, even if it is somewhat political, I have learned from my children that it’s okay to talk it out.  In the end your own views may become a little more precise.  And through a little bit of heated debate you make just find them changing ever so slightly.

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Spring Break in St. Maarten – April 2017

It seems like the winter has been dragging on forever and ever so I was delighted when April 8 finally rolled around and we boarded our aircraft headed to St. Maarten for Spring break.  Our travel group has been shrinking as we get older since the two college kids now have a break at a different (EARLIER) time and no longer can join us.  Last year we enjoyed our time alone with our youngest daughter.  This year she brought a friend along which was really fun for all of us.

St. Maarten is special for us because it is the first place we ever vacationed together back when we first started dating.  We love the island and this trip marked our 4th trip there.  As a beach lover I brought and finished three books, all three of which I enjoyed and would recommend.

The first book I read was “Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett.  I was very excited to finally get this one from the library (drawback of the library – long wait time) because I have really liked some of her former works, especially “Bel Canto.” This book was a character driven family drama that centered around 2 families that were brought together when the mother of the Keating family met and fell in love with the father of the Cousin family.  It tells the story from the perspective of the 6 children from each of their first marriages and the trials and tribulations of being part of a forced second family.  To be critical, it’s non linear format was difficult to follow, but that was minimized for me by Ann’s ability to create lovable characters and to tell everyday contemporary family stories with clear descriptions and amazing insight.  I read it quickly and enjoyed it very much.

Next, I read “My Brilliant Friend” by Elena Ferrante which is the first of 4 books and is soon to be an HBO series.  It tells the fictional story of 2 friends, Lila and Elena growing up in Naples in a poor neighborhood in the 1950’s.  This first book tells the story of these two young and fiesty girls as they go through childhood and middle school and of their complex friendship that ranges at times from intimate to competitive. The complexity and character development of these girls is unlike anything I have ever read, however, it took me a while to understand the flow and style of her writing and frankly I had to re-read the beginning parts because I missed so much.  But after I settled into her style, I began to really love this story and I can see why she is Italy’s most beloved and acclaimed writer and I plan to read the next books in the series.

I finished the week up with a book given to me by my friend Loralee called “Behold the Dreamers” by Imbolo Mbue.  This novel tells the tale of a lovable young man, Jende, from Cameroon who just landed a huge job working as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards who is a Wall Street executive.  These two families become intertwined when Jende’s wife, Neni begins to nanny for the Edwards family children.  And triumph turns to tragedy when Wall Street crashes and both families have to make sacrifices.  It goes without saying that the main point of the book is that the sacrifices made by Jende’s family are much more impactful than those of the Edwards family.  The author who is a native of Cameroon tells this story with a positive slant and a clear eye for the good and not so good aspects of the American dream.

It was a great week with some of my favorite people at a lovely place.  And I also got lucky when I picked 3 very good books.  CHA – CHING!  What more could you possibly want?

 

 

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The Library – 5 reasons I re-joined

I read a lot and over the years have spent a small fortune buying books.  I always resisted the library because it seemed inconvenient. I will chalk this resistance up to pure laziness or perhaps just pure busy-ness.  I also blame Amazon by pointing out they have  made buying books so easy I was lulled into this habit. I  just had to type a few letters into the search engine and the book magically arrived.

As I bought these books I favored the hard copy of books for two reasons.  First, I have this image of my home lined with cherished books that friends and family pull off the shelves as we banter about our favorite literature.  Sadly, this never happens.   Second, as a longtime retail professional, I  like a good deal. Amazon drives me crazy because they price the ebooks at only a dollar less than the hard copy.

I started getting signals to make a change.  My book clubs started planning books for 6 months at a time.  I have also been in a “de-clutter mode” following the loss of my father in law and the trauma of dealing with all of his possessions.  These two factors got me motivated to give the library another try.  So without further adieu here are my top 5 reasons to re-join the library.

  1.  It helps reduce clutter.   I love owning my favorite books, but there are many painful reminders in my home of books I did not like, books I could not finish, or the worst – books I never even started.
  2. It’s a great way to try out new books without any commitment.  Try it, start it or not- it still goes back with the others in the stack.
  3. The library gives you a due date which to me is a deadline.  This gives me motivation to finish.  I always work better under a deadline, I mean who doesn’t?
  4. I am saving money.  I think that means a bigger allowance for my shoe and coffee habit!
  5. I like getting out and seeing the people who live in my community and not just the other parents of 9th graders!  I have enjoyed browsing and visiting my library to get a better sense of who else lives in the community.

So there you have it.  I’m hooked and now it’s in print.  I’m a library lady.

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College Rape – “Missoula” by Jon Krakauer

I became a bit obsessed with the topic of college rape following the gang rape allegations against several football players at the U of Minnesota.  So when my friend Amy told me she just finished the book “Missoula:  Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” I knew I had to read it.

The book is written by Jon Krakauer, who is one of my favorite authors.  Many will remember his most popular books “Into the Wild” about a young man who ventured off on a solo trek to his untimely death and “Into Thin Air” about the perils and joys of climbing Mount Everest.  This time Jon tackles the subject of college rape, which is largely considered “non-stranger” rape since most often it happens when the victims know or have been in a social situation with their attacker.  This book is based on research on the sexual assaults that occurred in Missoula Montana from 2010 – 2012 and specifically on interviews with victims who pressed charges in 3 high profile cases.

The first rape victim we meet in the book is Allison Huguet. Her story is compelling because her attacker was a family friend, someone she trusted and thought of as a big brother.

Right from the start Allison’s story changed the way I thought about rape.  As I read this book I was forming a parenting “talk track” in my mind.  The track for my daughters went something like this:  “don’t drink when you go to parties, make sure you have a buddy and never separate from them, and never go home with a stranger.”  With the exception of the drinking, Allison did all of these things and was still assaulted in her sleep and raped.  Clearly, my talk track needs to be revised.

As I read the book I realized that with rape, unlike other crimes, the victim is held to a very high standard to “prove” they have been assaulted.  In what other crime do you have to be sure to document that you were harmed?  My talk track now goes like this:  “Girls, you need to go to the police right away,  also make sure you have physical evidence.  Please, no showering!  Also remember to scratch them so as to keep the dna in your fingernails.”  

Allison actually called her mother immediately following the attack, went to the police and later that day got a tape recorded confession from her attacker.  She had a very good case against her attacker and this led to his conviction but most rapes are not this way.  According to the book 80% are not even reported and even if reported most are not prosecuted because of the difficulty to prove that the sex was not consensual.  And often times the victim blames herself for getting into a questionable situation.

As I thought more about these crimes I realized I did not want to leave my son out of the conversation.Following the U of M football story I had a long talk with him about his college experiences.  We talked about drinking, consent and what he should do if he came across a girl in distress.

It’s hard to know what the right parenting “talk track” is for date rape.  For my kids, here is my new talk track:

  1.  Avoid alcohol, especially shots.  Theres’s nothing sexy about being drunk.
  2. Look out for each other, men and women please look out for other men and women.  If something seems wrong it probably is. And better safe than sorry.
  3. Protect your reputation.

I highly recommend this book for parents of teenagers and young adults.  Create your own talk track and have the conversation with them.  Let’s address this problem starting in our own homes.

 

 

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Top 5 Loughrey Fam NYC moments

My family loves to travel and so for Christmas we decided that our big gift would be 5 days and 4 nights in NYC.  My retail job requires complete dedication until Christmas so we joined the 1 million other people staying in Manhattan between Christmas and NY. We have learned the importance of a centralized location so we stayed in Midtown at the Mansfield Hotel on W 44th street just a few blocks away from Times Square. With 5 of us among the 1 million nothing was cheap or fast but it was well worth it.  Here are the highlights:

  1.  The views from the top of the Empire State Building.  Of course I have seen “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Elf” so I knew what to expect.  The lines were well outside the door and we were warned it would take us 2 hours to get to the top.  However the line wasn’t too bad since we were warm and dry (more on that later) and we got to see the beautiful and famous gold toned lobby. When we got to the top the fresh air was refreshing and the views were incredible. It was the highlight for all 5 of us.
  2. The theater on Broadway – we saw “Beautiful”.  My husband and son were not as interested in this but went along with the plan and ended up loving the show.  We did not get tickets ahead of time hearing it would be “easy” to get them for half price.  HA HA.  What a joke, since this is the busiest week of the year and there are FIVE of us.  But we are nothing if we are not optimistic so off we went on a couple of wild goose chases to find cheap tickets.  After  a couple of strikeouts we changed our strategy and decided to walk up to the  box office.  We hit it big when we scored 5 main floor tickets to “Beautiful”. The show had many great hits from the famous singer/songwriter Carole King.  It was a great experience that was enhanced by the very loud and enthusiastic group behind us who also LOVED the show and made us laugh with all of their positive cheering.
  3. The Statue of Liberty is beautiful and majestic.  I am glad that we figured out that our New York City pass had a free ferry tour and we skipped the also free Staten Island ferry because of earlier reference to 1 million tourists.  The “BIG BUS RIDE” back to midtown was memorable because we all froze to death atop the open air bus ride that was stuck in traffic for an hour.  This was absolutely miserable at the time but is now locked into the family memory bank as a once in a lifetime experience – the beautiful statue of Liberty plus the open air bus ride in traffic.  Ugh.
  4. The National 9/11 Memorial Museum was interesting however our experience was “dampened” by the unorganized 2 hour wait outside in the rain.  We waited in one line only to get a group time an hour later. We then came back at the group time only to re-join another outside, wet and rainy general admission line.  I really wanted to love it there, especially since Shannon was born on 9/11 but inside the museum also felt unorganized.  While it was touching to see so many of the items located together I was expecting to have a more emotional experience.
  5. Time Square is a hot mess of a place.  There is so much going on that it wasn’t until our second day there that I noticed “Good Morning America” being filmed right in front of me! We debated if we wanted to stand in line to watch the ball drop on NYE but the horror stories of no bathrooms and being so crowded for so long did not sound appealing. Instead, we had dinner at a neat Irish pub and watched the festivities from a block away.  While on the perimeter we got to see first hand the security surrounding the event.  I was very impressed with the polite and professional NYPD who oversaw the evening.  Well done.

We enjoyed these and many other things in NYC:  Central park, the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and many wonderful dining experiences.  Experiencing this with my family is something I will never forget.

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“The House We Grew Up In” by Lisa Jewell

I am probably the opposite of a hoarder.  When my kids were little they brought home their artwork and I would say “This is beautiful BUT is it in the top 10%?”  If they said yes they knew  I would keep it and put it into the ONE plastic tote that each of them was promised to commemorate their childhood. And if not, straight into the garbage it went.

So with that as background, I recently read “The House We Grew Up In” which is a novel about a mother who is a hoarder.  As I read the book I became increasingly fascinated with hoarding. I watched several videos to learn more about hoarding and see what the home of a hoarder looked like.

The book and the videos made me worry:  what if I am a hoarder?  Do I have too much stuff?  I would start to read, then look around and decide that an area of my house needed a good decluttering.  I confess that during the reading of this book, I threw out 30 bags of clutter. At least.

Aside from the clutter I also looked with a critical eye around my living room.  What do others see when they walk in?  What I saw was a room that had not been touched in 16 years, really since the day we moved in.  It was dated and dusty.  So, I did what any obsessive, enterprising woman would do – I hired a decorator!  She came in and totally re-evaluated my room, she moved things around and put a pile together of things that no longer “worked.”  When I saw this sad little pile of dusty relics I knew she was right, they no longer deserved a place on my wall.  She then added just a few items and suddenly I feel like I have a brand new living room.

I don’t know of any other book that has caused me to inspect my environment or myself so critically.  I concluded that I probably lean more toward OCD than hoarding.   Also that it’s easy to grow comfortable in your environment so giving your space a critical look every once in a while is a good thing.  So go ahead and read this book, but beware a surge of cleaning and self inspection just might follow.

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