What it’s about: The disappearance of the middle class in America, or as the subtitle puts it: Why our families can’t afford America.
What made me pick it up: Because I saw the author was coming to our beloved book festival in a couple months. And also because I had to work for a decade after earning two degrees to even be considered mathematically middle class based on income and I know so many others struggling as much or worse than I am.
My favorite parts: The best parts are honestly the hardest to read about because affirmation of a bad situation doesn’t improve it. Wages have not really grown in 40 years for the working and middle classes of America, while wealth at the top has grown exponentially. That math is making just living untenable. College is more expensive, full time benefited work is harder to come by, and housing rates are simply unaffordable in many areas. Social safety nets are underfunded, or failing, and basic needs like universal child and healthcare and support of working parents are missing entirely. This book will spark some tough conversations about the way forward, but that will probably involve following the lead of our European neighbors and raising taxes to support our people.
Who it’s great for: Anyone working hard just to stay afloat and wondering why.
What it’s about: The author’s refugee experience escaping the Rwandan genocide and the years she spent traveling from one camp to another before immigrating to the US.
What made me pick it up: It was really well reviewed.
My favorite parts: Wamariya escapes at such a young age she almost doesn’t understand death and war and why they are walking and not stopping. She yearns her whole life to go back to her family, as it was, even as she reconnects with them. It is heartbreaking, both reading of the little girl who does not comprehend and as the adult who cannot stop grieving all that is lost. I so admire her indomitable spirit and the unbreakable will of her older sister who helped her survive through multiple countries and camps. Wamariya examines the many ways to move past trauma, especially that caused by civil war and genocide, with no easy answers only her personal truth and what she sees others attempting as well. If you are American you will feel shame for the atrocities we ignored in 1994 and the ongoing ones we continue to ignore worldwide. You will also be immensely grateful for all you have lucked into based on the geography of your birth. Mostly, you will want to help refugees any way you can.
Who it’s great for: Readers who want to learn more about the unending trauma of war.
What it’s about: Tyranny and actions you can take to prevent it.
What made me pick it up: I was looking for new downloadable audiobooks and this one was quite short (less than two hours).
My favorite things: Give to charities, join organizations of shared interests, travel, read. This book has many good, and somewhat unexpected, lessons and suggestions on how to keep your country (any country, although specifically aimed at Americans) from devolving into a tyrannical, fascist state. It leans heavily on examples from pre-WWII Europe, especially Nazi Germany, which can be hard to stomach for the simple fact that it feels so familiar and we know how atrocious it ended up being. This is less political than you might expect, but it does spend some time pointing out behaviors in current American leadership that mimic those that led to disastrous consequences in other countries in the past. It’s short enough and generalized enough to make it worth dipping into by readers on both sides of the aisle.
Who it’s great for: Anyone who feels like we are far too polarized for our own good. Fans of history, politics, current affairs, or international relations
What it’s about: The is a celebration of America, its diversity, and its flag.
What made me pick it up: I really like this illustrator, Kadir Nelson — he didHenry’s Freedom Box and If You Plant a Seed— although I didn’t realize that until I got the book. It must have been reviewed well somewhere or sounded intriguing, so I placed a hold on it.
My favorite things: The illustrations are beautiful! Combined with the spare prose this is a powerful book. It really conveys the message of the American flag across history and throughout the vastness of the country, its people, and its customs. I enjoyed such a simple, yet positive, message.
Who it’s great for: Anyone who needs a small reminder of why America is great, especially when it might not feel that way. Readers who enjoy great illustrations and want to feel briefly that they are in an art gallery while reading a book.