Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Diary of a Bookseller

In 2004 I wrote a business plan for a store I wanted to call Granola Books. It was to be a used bookstore and its tagline would be “Feed your mind.”

I think about that today, 15 years later, at 38, and wonder how my life might’ve been different if I’d taken the leap and started that bookstore. At that point, Amazon was just revving up. I was selling a lot of books online, dipping my toes in to bookselling, and side hustling before side hustles were cool. That was when you could make money on all but the cheap and plentiful New York Times bestsellers.

It was a big dream and I was a broke recent college graduate with a toddler and $50,000 of student loan debt, still living at home with my dad and siblings.

I wanted it so badly and none of it felt possible. So, instead, I became a secretary and a freelance writer, and worked my way to being the financially sound, debt-free content creator you know today. 😉

In between, I’ve been a magazine editor, worked in a library, and started my own now defunct subscription box  This is the first time since I graduated college that I have not had a side hustle. I quit freelance writing for local magazines last fall. My kid is grown. I am learning to embrace a weird amount of free time.

37457057All this is prelude to saying that when I finished The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, it felt like a privileged glimpse into a life that could’ve been had I chosen that path…readers will impart their own meaning onto books, won’t they? Honestly, who the fark knows if Granola Books would’ve been successful or not. The trials of indie bookstores in a world ruled by Amazon cannot be underestimated.

But aaanyway, Bythell’s book is a peek into the daily activity of a used bookstore in rural Scotland. It’s a memoir written as a diary, as the title says, with an entry each day for the span of a year. Bythell owns The Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland, “Scotland’s National Booktown,” where there are many other book shops and a large, popular annual festival, The Wigtown Book Festival.

As of the writing of the book, Bythell employs a handful of odd but wonderful helpers, including Nicky, a taciturn woman who routinely ignores the tasks Bythell assigns her, rearranges the books in the shop to her liking, and brings in dumpster finds for what she names “Foodie Friday.”

Meanwhile, Bythell’s shop is host to a cast of quirky customers worthy of a fake sitcom village. That’s the real treat in this book. In the vein of Jen Campbell’s Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, but with more narrative context, Bythell offers up gem conversations like this one:

A Northern Irish customer (an old man in a blue tank top) came to the counter with two books and asked, “What can you do for me on those?” The total came to £4.50, so I told him there was no way I could possibly give him a discount on books that were already cheaper than the postage alone on Amazon. He reluctantly conceded, muttering, “Oh well, I hope you’re still here next time I visit.” From his tone it wasn’t entirely clear whether he was suggesting that my refusal to grant a discount on a £4.50 sale would mean that customers would leave in their droves, never to return and the shop would be forced to close, or whether he genuinely meant that he hoped the shop would survive through these difficult times. 

Lots of moments like this to entertain the reader. We also learn about Bythell and his hobbies and friends, and the bookstore’s place in town life. And ew begin to understand the daily ins and outs of running a bookshop, dealing with shipping issues, malfunctioning POS systems, and such minutiae as Bythell’s difficulty keeping the shop warm enough in the winter. Hilariously, Nicky wears a full-on ski suit from October to April.

It’s truly enjoyable. You should read it. Whenever I make it to Scotland, some day in the future, I’m totally going to The BookShop to buy books.

Special thanks to Sarah Cords of Citizen Reader for recommending it on her blog, which is how I found out about it.

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2019 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

A Girl of the Limberlost

915344b6c5624cc02e5fc17c9e45894662815b80A Girl of the Limberlost by novelist and naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter is an Indiana classic. And since I live in Indiana and needed a book for the Classic from a Place You’ve Lived category of the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge, I thought this was the year I should read it.

First published in 1909, the novel follows the story of Elnora Comstock, a farm girl growing up near the Limberlost Swamp in northeastern Indiana. The swamp, a real place, was eventually drained between 1880-1910 for agricultural development.

Elnora lives on a farm with her widowed mother Katharine Comstock, a hard woman that reminded me of Marilla Cuthbert (from Anne of Green Gables) but without the obvious love that underlies her tough exterior. In fact, Katharine was giving birth to Elnora as her husband drowned in quicksand in the swamp, and so Katharine blames her daughter for her husband’s death—because apparently she thinks she would’ve been there to save him if she wasn’t giving birth?

A true leap of logic there, but whatever. Anyway, poor Elnora bears her mother’s scorn her whole life. In the beginning of the story, she’s an outsider, starting high school as a bit of a pariah because she’s poor and doesn’t wear the right clothes to begin with. But she a loving neighbor couple who act as her aunt and uncle. They buy her clothes and browbeat her mother into helping provide what Elnora needs for school.

To earn money to pay for school and the things she needs, Elnora sells specimens left to her in a box in the woods by Freckles, the title character of Stratton-Porter’s previous novel. I didn’t know until I’d finished it that A Girl of the Limberlost is actually considered a sequel to Freckles. I just saw the character Freckles mention in AGOTL and was like, “Who the hell is Freckles?” Anyway, I guess I’m not as careful a reader as I think I am because I probably should’ve figured that out.

As time goes by, Elnora makes friends at school, befriends an orphan boy that her neighbors adopt, has a climactic altercation with her mother that brings them closer, and gets involved in something of a love triangle with a nature-loving young man and his former fiance.

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Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva, IN

All the while she makes money selling specimens from the box or those she collects herself to the “Bird Woman,” a naturalist character who apparently stands for Stratton-Porter herself.

I feel like, other than summarizing the plot for you, I don’t have much to say about this story. I felt it was kind of like an Indiana version of Anne of Green Gables, except that I didn’t care about the characters as much. I liked learning about the flora and fauna of the swamp as I am a nature-lover myself, but even that kind of bored me after awhile.

That said, I’m definitely going to find a book on Stratton-Porter because she must’ve led a really interesting life for an Indiana girl. Wikipedia says she was one of the most popular novelists of her time. I’d heard of her, but I didn’t know she was that popular. I’m also going to visit her former home and greenhouse, which are now part of a state historic site.

So that’s what I really felt I got out of reading this novel. I learned more about a whole realm of Indiana literature that I have yet to explore. And that excites me.

p.s. As mentioned above, this is my book for the Classic from a Place You’ve Lived category of the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Favorite Fictional Villains

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is a “character freebie,” meaning we could post a list about anything related to book characters. I thought it’d be fun to revisit some favorite fictional villains, those characters we love to hate, or just love for their inimitable badness. 🙂

Ben and I had a conversation about how it may not be easy. The fiction we read is so often more complicated than good guys vs. bad. I think that’s one of the things you learn in high school English classes right off the bat – protagonists aren’t always the “good guys” and the bad guys sometimes have very good reasons for being bad.

It’s not always the Rebellion against the Empire. And if it is, you can usually see why the Empire became the Empire in the first place. There’s a backstory.

That said, we did each come up with five villains that have stood out to us in our reading lives, and frankly, I scrambled a bit. You’ll see I had to include a “mysterious, nefarious presence” as a villain because the books I read lately that have villains are more likely to be ghost stories.*

Ben’s Top Five Fictional Villains

1. Valentine Wolfe – Deathstalker series by Simon R. Green

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An appropriately insane space aristocrat from the delightfully deranged Deathstalker saga. He’s a ruthless, amoral schemer who is searching for some sort of transcendent consciousness by surfing a constant wave of exotic drugs while he plots against the heroes, his rivals, his own family…basically everybody.

2. The Black Riders – The Lord of the Ring series by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Their mysterious, implacable menace as they stalk the hobbits through the early stages of The Fellowship of The Ring haunted my childhood nightmares. You know that the unimposing halfling heroes stand no chance if they’re caught without heavy hitters like Gandalf or Aragorn to protect them. So the relentless pursuit fills the reader with dread. And as always, the monster is scariest when it’s still a mystery.

3. Iago – Othello – Shakespeare 

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Robert Ramirez as Iago, Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival

He didn’t totally jump off the page to me when I read Othello. But seeing Robert Ramirez perform the role last year, he absolutely steals the show. His wit and all-too-knowing humor made it tempting to root for the bad guy up unitl the heart-wrenching final act.

TheWarrior4. Samuel “Slick” Des Grieux – The Warrior by David Drake

He’s actually the protagonist of “The Warrior” by David Drake, and he starts off looking like a hero. His rivalry with nemesis Lucas Broglie could be described as Achilles vs Hector with hovertanks: a heroic fighter gone off the rails due to pride, stubbornness, and rage.

5. Montresor – The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe

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Right: Still from The Cask of Amontillado short film by Moonbot Studios

Another villain-as-protagonist, Montresor’s carefully-plotted vengeance in The Cask of Amontillado is haunting and sinister. Thanks to his narration, we journey through dark catacombs inside a mind poisoned with resentment over “a thousand” unspecified injuries and insults. His smug closing line, “Yes, for the love of God!” is deliciously dark.

 

Shannon’s Top Five Fictional Villains

1. Mrs. Danvers – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

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Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers (right) with Joan Fontaine as the unnamed protagonist in Rebecca (1940)

I hate to be so basic but no one makes me want to shout “WHY DON’T YOU SHUT UP AND GET OUT OF MY LIFE” in a Napoleon Dynamite voice like Mrs. Danvers. The housekeeper at Manderley made her creepy presence known and hated at every turn, along with her obsessive devotion to her previous mistress, and nearly drove our heroine to jump out a window to her death. Horrid woman.

2. The Sheriff of Nottingham – The legend of Robin Hood

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My two favorite sheriffs: Pat Buttram (1973) and Alan Rickman (1991)

Is there any worse villain than a mid-level government official on a power trip? I mean, we’ve all had business at the BMV or the County City building. Sorry, too real? In the legend of Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham is characterized as a power-tripping, greedy low-level tyrant of the worst order. He imposes unreasonable taxes on the poor and is, of course, the nemesis of beloved Robin Hood. My two favorite flim adaptations of this story are the Disney movie and, because I grew up in the 90s, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. “Look into my eyes…You will see…What you mean to me…”

3. Annie Wilkes – Misery by Stephen King 

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Cathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990)

Ahhhh, she’s so crazy. A classic obsessive psychopath, Annie Wilkes imprisons the injured bestselling novelist who has killed off her favorite character in his series of Victorian romance novels. That just won’t do. Is there anything better than a mentally unstable villain? They’re so deliciously unpredictable. And Cathy Bates is iconic in the movie adaptation. I think I’ll reread the book this year…

4. Count Olaf – A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

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Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf in the Netflix series (2017)

Count Olaf is a guy who is easy to hate. Ugly, mean, and lacking good hygiene, Count Olaf enacts a series of ridiculous and complicated plots to steal the fortune of the three Baudelaire orphans. Reading the series is a bit like watching a bunch of Scooby Doo episodes. It’s always “we thought it was [a grizzled seaman/mean gym teacher/detective in sunglasses] but it was really Count Olaf in a mask the whole time!”…or whatever. I read these books to Jacob when he was younger and always got a kick out of the “surprise.”

5. Mysterious, nefarious presence – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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Julie Harris as Eleanor “Lance” in the 1963 adaptation The Haunting

I don’t know if you consider inexplicable phenomena villains, but I feel that in the case of Hill House, it is an apt description. The spooky presence at Hill House leads poor, meek Eleanor Vance to a cataclysmic ending, so you be the judge. I don’t know how Jackson made progressively louder door-knocking so scary, and in book format no less, but I didn’t want to get up to pee in the middle of the night for like a week after reading this book.

*Speaking of ghost stories – do you have any you like and can recommend? I’m always on the hunt for more.

Check out our past Top Ten Tuesday posts here.

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Friday Fives

Friday Fives

What’s everybody up to this “holiday” weekend? Quotes around “holiday” because it’s just a regular weekend for me and it’s only a holiday in the U.S. Ben is working tomorrow and my house is in desperate need of a good cleaning. So, yay?

On with the Friday Fives!

Movie Cover: Being JuliaWhat I’m Watching: 

Still finishing up 90210 (I’m on season 10!), but I also just noticed that the book I just finished, Theater by W. Somerset Maugham, is also a movie starring Annette Bening. I will be watching it tonight (may have to start it on my lunch hour though!). Now that I see the dvd cover, it does kind of ring a bell. Looks like Bening won a best actress award for it too.

 

Book Cover: Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and ClydeWhat I’m Reading: 

I’ve started Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde. I’m on, like, page 10, so I haven’t committed yet, but it’s pretty good so far. Good in that it’s a very dramatic story that holds my attention. Sad in that it starts off with the terrible murder of a young police officer.

 

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What I’m Listening to:

Still Crime Junkie for now, but I also discovered the Allah-Las the other day, and contemporary psychedelic surf rock might actually become my thing this summer.

 

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An ATC for a swap group I’m in.

What I’m Making: 

Some collage. Other than that, not much, honestly. I need to get back to my craft table, but I think I’m back in “consumption” vs. “production” mode. (Explanation here.)

 

 

img_20190605_171026What I’m Loving: 

Nothing earth-shattering lately. I’ve been buying fresh flowers for myself lately and it improves my mood every time I look at them. Highly recommend if you can swing it.

Happy weekend!

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2019 Classics Challenge, Fiction

Theater

31326Have you heard of the author/playwright W. Somerset Maugham? I hadn’t. Not until I pulled his 1939 novel Theater from a library shelf at random a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it so much that I’ve added some of his other novels to my TBR.

This story is tightly centered on Julia Lambert and her husband Michael, both London actors. Julia has become known as one of the greatest actresses of all time at this point, and Michael, while a serviceable actor, learned early on that his talent lay in producing and directing.

The book tells the story of their rise to success in the theater world. And like many stories about successful women, we meet Julia at mid-life, when her career is the best it’s ever been, and yet…there’s something missing.

She ends up having a brief affair with an accountant who takes a shine to her, but is mostly interested in her lifestyle. Julia and Michael are very rich by this point. The affair muddies up her sense of self and her confidence in who she is as a person outside of her art.

The story pulls in many themes in the examination of Julia’s marriage and her rise in the London theater scene. All of that is quite fun.

But the most interest in this story for me lies in Julia’s dance with her own image. Throughout the story, she’s constantly confronted with reflections of who she is and who she thinks she is as these concepts battle for emotional real estate.

Essentially, what people think of her and what she thinks of herself are intertwined, as they are for almost all people. But the fact that she’s an actress magnifies this and makes mining through her emotional landscape difficult.

There’s a great ending scene where her son Roger confronts her, telling her what she’s been like as a mother and where that’s left him in life. Julia has a choice about whether to take in what he’s saying and become willing to look at herself from an honest perspective. The will-she-won’t-she kept me reading to the end.

p.s. This novel counts as my entry for a 20th-century classic in the 2019 Back to the Classics challenge.

 

 

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Top Ten Tuesday, What Ben Read, What Shannon Read

Top Ten Favorite Childhood Picture Books

Yeah, I know, late again for Top Ten Tuesday, but I loved this week’s theme and couldn’t not participate! So here we are.

This week, it’s Top Ten Favorite Picture Books from your childhood. I thought that because Ben also has a great reading history in this department, we should do a shared list (much like the characters list we did last month).

So, my five are first and Ben’s five follow.

Shannon’s Top Five Favorites

Ack, this list has me all sappy remembering these books and being read to as a kid. Get ready for some non-high-brow literature, baby. Here we go.

ADayattheBeachBook1. A Day at the Beach by Mircea Vasiliu

I was truly tickled to see that this one had reviews and comments on Goodreads. I loved going through this as a kid because everything is labeled and I could pick out all the things I recognized and all the things our (Great Lakes) beaches didn’t offer: crabs, giant seashells, etc. I still have my copy of this and every time my eye passes over it on the shelf, I remember being little and running through the waves with a butt covered in sand and sticky lemonade spills. So pure.

p.s. I did a bunch of Googling but couldn’t find a spread to share and I think my copy might be at my dad’s house or with one of my siblings.

 

2. Fairy Tales: A Puppet Treasury Book, Illustrations by Tadasu Izawa and Shigemi Hijikata

img_20190704_102456327I memorized every single story and image in this creepy-ass 3D puppet illustration fairy tale book. The witch in Hansel and Gretel is truly alarming. Some internet sleuthing tells me that this was a popular form of “illustration” and that my compendium of stories were originally released as individual books with various editions in the 60s and 70s. There’s no copyright date inside the volume I have, just individual copyrights for the illustrations. It was bought for me in the 80s. Creepy? Yes. But now I also see now that I hold a bit of picture book history in my personal library.

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14927513. The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot, Illustrations by Ruth Brown 

This one was given to me by my mom’s cousin and his wife. It’s written by Jim Herriot of rural-veterinarian-writer fame. It’s a sweet story about a mother cat who brought her kitten to the home of an elderly woman before she (the mother cat) died. Very real talk for a little kid, but I loved sweet stories about animals. I also read this to Jacob when he was little.

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4. This random children’s Bible

We were pretty Catholic when I was growing up. I received this as a baptism gift and my dad read it to me at bedtime.  I’m no longer religious, but I still have the Bible, which went through both my siblings after me, then passed on to Jacob. I’ll probably have it forever and/or pass it on to grandchildren or, if Jacob doesn’t have children, possibly nieces or nephews.

 

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5. The Bedtime Book 

This was a board book and I am now kicking myself because I can’t find. I’ve had it since I was little. It’s a board book. There is a little girl on the cover praying and the book is shaped around her silhouette. Gonna’ check with my siblings to see if either of them have it. I couldn’t find it online and really, it offers no literary significance. It was just special to us because it was read to us about a million times. Sort of our version of Goodnight Moon, which I don’t remember having as a kid.

 

Ben’s Top Five Favorites

Top 5 Records presents: the top 5 picture books of my childhood. Dr. Seuss boutsa be all up in the mothafuckin house. 😉 With longer to work on it I might make slightly different selections, but I think this is a pretty decent list.

2272201. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, illustrated by Michael Hague

The story itself is delightful, Tolkien’s Middle Earth is enchanting, and what little kid wouldn’t love an epic adventure where a half-size character gets to play the hero? Hague’s illustrations are a delightful mix of evocative scene-setting and dramatic action. On top of all that, it was a birthday present from one of my favorite Aunts. One of my all-time favorite books, picture or otherwise.

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77752. Happy Birthday to You by Dr. Seuss

I could fill this whole list with just Dr. Seuss books. But this one has a family tradition behind it. Also, if Wikipedia is correct, it is the first all-color picture book. So it’ll stand in for other favorites like Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are, On Beyond Zebra, and I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew. We would always get Happy Birthday To You from the library when any of the Rooney children had a birthday coming up, and my Dad would read it in honor of the birthday child. I find myself noting the sage injunction, “You have to be born, or you don’t get a present” to this very day.

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Did this book contribute to the fact that I keep wanting to treat myself and those around me to slightly-extravagant birthday celebrations? Maaaaayyyyybe…..

 

2979113. The Grey Lady and The Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang

The whole book is just beautiful, slightly surreal pictures. The style is sort of Toulouse-Lautrec meets Dixit. Despite the absence of words the story is quite clearly told, and there is plenty of action and suspense.

 

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17631114. Upside-Downers by Mitsumasa Anno

This book is really fun and creative. It’s written half upside down, and half right-side up. But which is which? The playing card-themed characters bicker about who is doing it wrong. Finally the matter comes before the Kings. “Oh king, great king your Heartiness, aren’t we the ones who are up? Oh King, kind king your Clubbiness aren’t they the ones who are down?”

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101185. Saint George and The Dragon by Margaret Hodges, Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

If you didn’t get this book from the Scholastic book fair back in the day, you were missing out. It has vivid illustrations, with some cool little details in the sidebars that reward a closer examination. The prose hints at alliterative verse, giving it a somewhat poetic effect. There are a few awkwardly turned phrases here and there, but as a kid I wasn’t about to scrutinize minor authorial foibles. LOOK AT THAT FREAKIN’ DRAGON!

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Thus ends another belated Top Ten Tuesday. Did you participate? If so, leave your link below!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Flat Broke with Two Goats

34931315._SY475_This post is about the book Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha—a.k.a. Much Ado About a Cabin.

It is a very long post and for that I’m sorry. I JUST HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS.

Allow me to explain.

Jennifer and her husband David used to live in Suburbia. David made a “six figure” salary as a freelance accountant and Jennifer taught about three classes a year as an adjunct English professor, which brought in around $10,000 a year.

They decided to send their three kids to a private middle and high school nearly an hour away from their home because Jennifer and David didn’t have a good experience going through their local public schools as kids and they wanted better for their children.

David’s salary was more than enough, and seemed to be getting better all the time, so when their good friends told the couple that they were selling their beautiful rambling Cape Cod in a gated neighborhood, Jennifer and David opted to buy it. They settled in nicely for the next eight years and, while David continued to handle the bread-winning, Jennifer focused on raising their three kids, now teenagers, volunteering at their schools and organizing their birthday parties, making sure homework got done, etc.

One day in the future, when their two oldest children were off at college and their youngest was in school, a man knocked on the door. Jennifer answered thinking it might be a delivery person, but no, it was a repo man, there to take back her minivan, which hadn’t been paid on in several months.

This, apparently, was the first sign of financial trouble in Jennifer and David’s lives as far as Jennifer was aware. And then, one night, Jennifer realizes David is crying into his pillow. When she questions him, he responds that they owe back taxes. A lot of back taxes. As David was “in charge” of the couple’s finances, Jennifer gave him a talking to and David apologized profusely, saying he would “fix it.”

And this is where I began to question Jennifer and David’s decision-making and general competence. This memoir takes place right after the Great Recession and the burst housing bubble that left so many Americans in terrible debt. So, I do have some empathy here. You bought a big house and sent your kids to expensive schools because you thought you could depend on your high income. Then the market crashes. Happens to a lot of people.

When it became impossible to make mortgage payments, Jennifer and David stopped making payments because when you’re about to be foreclosed on, it doesn’t make sense to shovel your available cash into a sinking ship. Totally understandable and I don’t have any qualms with this.

But then follows a series of terrible choices:

-David floats the idea of moving into a cabin owned by a distant relative, which they can rent for $250 per month and fix up. Because even though they’re broke and in, Jennifer says, $350,000 of debt, they can somehow afford to fix up a house? David is even fantasizing about adding skylights at some point….?!?!

-Watch out, boys. We’ve got a runner. Jennifer half agrees to move into this cabin, but then is so angry at David for ruining their finances that she fantasizes about leaving him and, in fact, applies for, then takes a five-month teaching job in a city 12 hours away. She takes one of their dogs and lives in a rehabbed boxcar while she teaches there. She develops a whole life for herself in this other city, including friends and even a guy she kind of dates. David has to reminder her at the end that she promised to come home even though she doesn’t want to.

-The cabin is in the mountains, next to a picturesque waterfall, which is right out the front door. So that’s cool. But it needs total rehabbing. They can’t even count on hot water for showers. At one point, they’re at Lowe’s trying to decide what kind of new flooring to put in and I’m like, WHERE ARE YOU GETTING THE MONEY FOR THIS SHIT? YOU SHOULD BE COUNTING EVERY FUCKING PENNY NOT DEBATING HARDWOOD AND LINOLEUM. Live with the old, ugly carpet while you get your shit together. God, this is stressful to read about.

-The owners of the Cape Cod move all Jennifer and David’s stuff into the garage of the Cape Cod because it has taken Jennifer and David an unreasonable amount of time to move out and even though Jennifer and David still technically own the house, the sellers, to whom they pay their mortgage payments directly, are apparently sick of waiting for them to move out. So Jennifer and David go over and break into the garage of their old house with a sledgehammer to get their stuff out. I don’t even know what to say about this.

-In addition to his accounting business, which is suffering due to the down economy, David also decides to “take over” a local Chipotle franchise. This is not totally explained in the book. David spends a bunch of time coming up with new menu items and Jennifer suggests craft beer options, so I think the Chipotle was maybe being turned into a different restaurant? Jennifer and David invest money into it but only “break even” and then hand it back over to the actual owner when they can’t make it profitable…This…sounds like a nightmare for a financially sound couple. I have so many questions but the details are murky in the book, so I don’t really know what to think about this episode.

-Next……they buy chickens! WHAT? Why? The IRS is suing you. You have almost no income. You are on the verge of divorce. But, you know what we should make sure to take care of? Our personal preference for farm fresh eggs. What the fuck.

-Next……let’s buy some goats! They do. They buy goats.

These are truly people who, due to an upper-middle-class upbringing, do not understand the value of a dollar. Jennifer acknowledges that their financial incompetence is due to their not being taught how to handle money…but then the couple doesn’t seem to be trying to better their situation by making good decisions and it is so painful to watch them flounder.

Here’s a passage to give you a sense of the privilege from which they come and the general lack of maturity/self-awareness with which they handled their situation throughout the book:

One day, I came home after mountain biking for hours. I was sweaty and muddy, my leg bruised and bloody from where I had grazed a tree. There was nothing I wanted more than a hot shower. When I stripped off all my clothes and hopped in the shower only to find there was no hot water. I was furious. I pulled a towel around me and went downstairs to find David.

“I didn’t choose to live here,” I said. “You did. And if you want me to stay, you will make sure we have hot, running water in this house.”

It wasn’t fair, but I was angry, and I needed someone other than myself to blame for my unhappiness. David looked stunned. He loved living here, could not imagine living in a real house or neighborhood again.

“It’s like Disneyland here,” he told me once. “There is so much fun stuff to do!”

A real house? *Eyeroll* And his comment about Disneyland made me laugh. They are so clearly playing at being poor. To them, being broke is about a cabin in the woods next to a picturesque waterfall. It means raising chickens and planting a garden. It means homesteading.

But, dude, homesteading, if you haven’t inherited a homestead, which maybe your family has worked for generations and held on to despite economic depressions and recessions, not to mention the rise of big agriculture, is fucking expensive. I mean, did they buy plant starters for the garden? Cheap seeds? Fertilizer? Where did they get the tools? These people can only just cover their bills.

But never fear. Here comes Jennifer, bastion of thrift. When she gets back from her teaching stint, Jennifer realizes she has “a lot of time” on her hands. And since she’s an avid cook and has always wanted to learn to make cheese, she decides to try her hand at it.

QUESTION: IF YOU HAVE FREE TIME, WHY DON’T YOU GET A JOB, JENNIFER?

Once, before Jennifer’s out of state teaching stint, she’s lamenting to some friends that there are no good jobs for a writer available to her and her friend suggests that she get a job at their local Belk’s department store. Her response is along the lines of “LOL, have you seen how I dress?” as she looks pointedly at her quirky outfit of mini skirt, cowboy boots, and a necklace made from recycled Coke bottles. Because goddess forbid you sacrifice your personal style for a salary.  No one ever does that.

The fact that there’s a recipe after every chapter and the book blurb lauds Jennifer and David’s “firm foot in the traditions of Appalachia” is kind of galling. I can’t imagine a poor person in Appalachia reading it and doing anything but laughing. When you can’t heat your home in the winter, making your own garden fresh pesto is just not that high on the list. The recipes are, at best, tone deaf.

This couple has a firmer foot in upper-middle-class America and this “embrace our Appalachian heritage to save money” nonsense is just that: nonsense. Instead of homesteading, they needed to read a Dave Ramsey book and go to marriage counseling.

So, Jennifer does go back to teaching part-time and sometimes teaching workshops, but the IRS is garnishing her wages, so the whole situation probably feels impossible. And she does have enough self-awareness to admit that she knows buying goats won’t actually change their lives, but instead will shore up her spirit while she waits for the IRS to settle their debts. You do what you can with what you know.

I don’t know what it’s like to be in that much debt, though I do know what it’s like to be heavily in debt, thanks to my student loans. Frightening. That’s what it’s like.

And some times you just get tired of the constant stress and have to say, fuck it, let’s buy some goats.

But you don’t then take out student loans and enroll in an MFA program. And that’s exactly what Jennifer did.

QUESTION: WHO LET THIS PERSON TAKE OUT STUDENT LOANS?

Then Jennifer’s ailing grandma comes to visit and Jennifer takes that as a sign that her grandmother is trying to reassure Jennifer that she’ll be OK even though her grandmother is dying.

That’s the end of the book.

I just. I can’t even.

Have you read it? Did you have a kinder reaction than I did? Do share!

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