Monday, December 28, 2020

2020...GAWD it stank! Here are some reads to remind us what's at stake in 2021

MILL TOWN: Reckoning with What Remains

St. Martin's Press
$27.99 hardcover, available now

Rating: The Full Five

The Publisher Says: A galvanizing and powerful debut, Mill Town is an American story, a human predicament, and a moral wake-up call that asks: what are we willing to tolerate and whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?

Kerri Arsenault grew up in the rural working class town of Mexico, Maine. For over 100 years the community orbited around a paper mill that employs most townspeople, including three generations of Arsenault’s own family. Years after she moved away, Arsenault realized the price she paid for her seemingly secure childhood. The mill, while providing livelihoods for nearly everyone, also contributed to the destruction of the environment and the decline of the town’s economic, physical, and emotional health in a slow-moving catastrophe, earning the area the nickname “Cancer Valley.”

Mill Town is an personal investigation, where Arsenault sifts through historical archives and scientific reports, talks to family and neighbors, and examines her own childhood to illuminate the rise and collapse of the working-class, the hazards of loving and leaving home, and the ambiguous nature of toxics and disease. Mill Town is a moral wake-up call that asks, Whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?

A FINALIST!! The National Book Critics' Circle's annual John Leonard Prize for a first book.

Many thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for my DRC.

My Review
: The 2020 book I couldn't review because I always end up screaming at my computer and kicking my laundry is that good, that real, that intense and necessary a read. Using her own hometown, and her entire youth there, as a lens to expose and excoriate corporate chicanery, Author Arsenault is taking no prisoners. Like her predecessors in exposé-dom Katherine Boo (Behind the Beautiful Forevers) and Rachel Carson (Silent Spring), she dug deep, interviewed widely, and concluded with a shout of outrage you really owe it to yourself to experience.


REFINERY TOWN: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City

Beacon Press
$27.95 hardcover, $14.99 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: The People vs. Big Oil--how a working-class company town harnessed the power of local politics to reclaim their community

With a foreword by Bernie Sanders

Home to one of the largest oil refineries in the state, Richmond, California, was once a typical company town, dominated by Chevron. This largely nonwhite, working-class city of 100,000 suffered from poverty, pollution, and poorly funded public services. It had one of the highest homicide rates per capita in the country and a jobless rate twice the national average.

But when veteran labor reporter Steve Early moved from New England to Richmond in 2012, he discovered a city struggling to remake itself. In Refinery Town, Early chronicles the 15 years of successful community organizing that raised the local minimum wage, defeated a casino development project, challenged home foreclosures and evictions, and sought fair taxation of Big Oil.

A short list of Richmond's activist residents helps to propel this compelling chronicle:

- 94 year old Betty Reid Soskin, the country's oldest full-time national park ranger and witness to Richmond's complex history
- Gayle McLaughlin, the Green Party mayor who challenged Chevron and won
- Police Chief Chris Magnus, who brought community policing to Richmond and is now one of America's leading public safety reformers

Part urban history, part call to action, Refinery Town shows how concerned citizens can harness the power of local politics to reclaim their community and make municipal government a source of much-needed policy innovation.

Many thanks to Edelweiss+ and Beacon Press for my DRC.

My Review
: There is nothing worse than a corporate lobbyist seeking the blinding of oversight for their industry: Congressional intervention alone saved the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board in 2017, whose paltry $11 million budget stands in stark contrast to the $530 billion industry they're charged with regulating. Author Early, in his extremely tendentious résumé of the many battles fought by the Richmond (CA) Progressive Alliance, some won and others lost but all in service of the humans of the city, kept me gasping in outraged sympathy. I definitely encourage Bernie supporters, environmentalists, and progressives to make the considerable effort to read this case study of a movement.


COMING OF AGE AT THE END OF NATURE: A Generation Faces Living on a Changed Planet

Trinity University Press
$18.95 paperback, $14.99 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Coming of Age at the End of Nature explores a new kind of environmental writing. This powerful anthology gathers the passionate voices of young writers who have grown up in an environmentally damaged and compromised world. Each contributor has come of age since Bill McKibben foretold the doom of humanity’s ancient relationship with a pristine earth in his prescient 1988 warning of climate change, The End of Nature.

What happens to individuals and societies when their most fundamental cultural, historical, and ecological bonds weaken—or snap? In Coming of Age at the End of Nature, insightful millennials express their anger and love, dreams and fears, and sources of resilience for living and thriving on our shifting planet.

Twenty-two essays explore wide-ranging themes that are paramount to young generations but that resonate with everyone, including redefining materialism and environmental justice, assessing the risk and promise of technology, and celebrating place anywhere from a wild Atlantic island to the Arizona desert, to Baltimore and Bangkok. The contributors speak with authority on problems facing us all, whether railing against the errors of past generations, reveling in their own adaptability, or insisting on a collective responsibility to do better.

Many thanks to Edelweiss+ and Trinity University Press for my DRC.

My Review
: A wildly variable collection of young peoples' responses to the horrific crisis my generation refused to mitigate or ameliorate in any way, shape, or form. I enjoyed a few essays that explored personal connections...a young parent pondering the ethics of childbirth at this historical point, a National Park docent contrasting the biome she guides people through with last century's paean essays to its lost glory...empathized with all, and ended up wanting to pen an apologia not a review. If the gutting of oversight and enforcement of regulations and standards on industry, and the all-but-abolishment of Federal land stewardship, causes you pain, read these essays to become galvanized and energized with purpose to fight our planet's hastened end.


HOW TO CHANGE A LAW: Improve Your Community, Influence Your Country, Impact the World

iLobby (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$2.99 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 5* of five

Many thanks to NetGalley and iLobby for my DRC.

I began this book wondering what the heck I could do to impact the legislative process; I ended it eager to apply the seven steps to self-empowerment in the political process. The most mind-blowingly direct, unfussy, and above all practical guide to speaking the language of successful influencers I can imagine. If the 2021 administration change has heartened you to imagine your voice can and should be heard, spend the extremely modest investment in this book and prepare wield your citizen's power effectively.

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