Donald’s Book Club: Southern discomfort

In two books focused on the American South, a look at the Red/Blue State divide both in the present day and in a dystopian future

I love books. And because The Munro Review consists of things I’m passionate about, it seems only natural to share at least some of that love with my readers. Thus I thus offer my first “Donald’s Book Club,” an occasional feature. I’ll be writing about books that I’ve read recently — some that lots of people are talking about, others that maybe had their moment in the sun long ago. (John Updike, anyone?)

Book cover of 'Strangers in Their Own Land'

I call it Donald’s Book Club for a couple of reasons. One is that I hope that after reading what I have to say, people will share books they recommend. You can do so in the comments for this post. Some of the best book recommendations I’ve gotten are from readers.

The other is that I’d like to do a series on book clubs in the central San Joaquin Valley. My idea: I will join different book clubs on a temporary basis, read one book and gather with the club members for the discussion. Then I’ll profile the club and my experience. If you have a book club you want to nominate, send me an email (donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com).

Let’s get on with the books.

I’m focusing on two today: “American War,” by Omar El Akkad; and “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Both are predominantly about the American South, and I happened to read one right after the other, which added to the thematic impact.

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Strangers in Their Own Land

By Arlie Russell Hochschild. New York: The New Press, 2016

The author is an acclaimed UC Berkeley sociologist who set forth on an earnest mission to bridge the gap between the Blue and the Red in this country. To do so she took an intensive, deep-immersion fact-finding tour of various parts of Louisiana. She didn’t disguise herself as anything but a liberal West Coast type (lots of good-natured hippie jokes), but she also didn’t try to push her own views. Instead she listened and participated — at potlucks, church services, political rallies — in an effort to get out of her liberal bubble and climb over what she calls the “empathy wall” to really get into the mindset of her fellow U.S. citizens.

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