I found Sarah Smarsh's Heartland fascinating and informative. She has a writing style that is precise in delivering its message. It flows and is written in such a way that it feels like Smarsh is speaking directly to one person, which may be due to the fact that the book is actually written to an unborn daughter, August, that never existed. I found the approach fascinating, and it made the book more personal. Having grown up in a rural area myself, and in a family that certainly wasn't "well-off" by any stretch of the imagination, I had no trouble relating to the overall story and struggles Smarsh described.
Smarsh makes quite a few valid points and provides credible, well-researched information to back them up. Heartland is a more personal look into the rural middle class culture and economic situation than other books that cover this subject. My only complaint would be that it felt like Smarsh was blaming her family's teen pregnancies/single motherhood/being tied to dangerous men on being poor, when in reality, that comes down to a choice of whether to abstain or not. Just because you're poor, doesn't mean you have to be promiscuous. Smarsh herself proved that, abstaining in order to make sure she was never tied down or held back from her goals.
The teen mother/single mother issue is more an issue of raising and a personal and moral choice. All the issues that were a result of a teen pregnancy could have been avoided simply by choosing not to have premarital sex. So I don't think it's quite fair to blame your teen mom/single mom status on your economic status. There's quite a few of us who grew up poor without getting pregnant and tied down. Now, maybe I'm misreading Smarsh's intent regarding this subject, so I say all of this completely open to discussion. I just don't agree with blaming bad choices on your economic status.
Other than that one issue, I thoroughly enjoyed Heartland and would highly recommend it. It is enlightening and informative, and really an excellent look into economic issues faced by many in this country.
I give it a 8/10.
There has been a great deal of buzz around J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy since its release in 2016, there's even a movie in development based on the book that will be directed by Ron Howard. I've had it on my radar for some time now, trying to get my hands on a copy, which proved hard due to it always being sold out around here. I finally found a copy in an indie Vermont bookstore recently, and read it fairly quickly.
Having grown up in/surrounded by the "hillbilly" culture, I found myself relating this book more than others of the same nature, often nodding my head at certain antidotes, stories, and descriptions. Hillbilly Elegy and Sarah Smarsh's Heartland are two books often compared to each other, as they seem to be two sides of the same coin, covering a similar culture but in different approaches and conclusions. I found Elegy the more relatable of the two myself.
While Heartland seems to lay blame on the government for the family's troubles, including teen pregnancies and such, Elegy distributes the blame fairly among its rightful owners. In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance acknowledges that a great deal of his family's (and the culture as a whole's) hardships were brought on or made worse by their own poor choices. While Vance does point out that there are ways the Government could do more to help, as well as social-economics having a role in the issues, he expertly gets down to the root of the issue through his own personal experience and antidotes.
Ultimately, the buck doesn't stop at the government or public education, instead you should trace it to the choices and failures on the people themselves. Can you really blame the government for your drug problems? Or your unplanned pregnancies? The answer is absolutely not. While the author isn't so bold as to suggest that he has a solid solution to a whole culture's hardships and struggles, he does suggest that it needs to start with better choices made by the people themselves.
Hillbilly Elegy is a well written, well informed memoir and a must read. I'd highly recommend it!
I give it an 8/10.
I'm so sad to see this series come to an end. I've thoroughly enjoyed Anne's memoirs. She has left me wanting even more. Anne LaBastille is a true inspiration to this young woman. Smart, independent, strong, admitted her fears and weaknesses, and tackled her life and career head on. I've been absorbed in LaBastille's writing for the last year, and now I'm left wondering what could possibly top her books.
Woodswoman IIII is the last installment of LaBastille's wonderful memoirs. Unlike the first three books in the series, which each cover a decade of Anne's life, Woodswoman IIII only covers five years. Another thing that sets this book apart from the others is the fact that it has a Forward written by Christopher Angus, author of The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty. Readers will know Petty by the pseudonym "Albert" from Anne's memoirs. He was a very dear friend of Anne's. Fun fact: Anne actually wrote the Forward to Angus' book on Petty's life.
In Woodswoman IIII, LaBastille continues to write about her extraordinary life, detailing her experience as a self-publishing author and book seller, a harrowing night while teaching down South, the death of her beloved German Shepherd Chekika, and the pleasure of good friends. An excellent mixture of conversational and informative, Anne's writing is a delight to read. She has quickly become one of my favorite writers, a status she'll no doubt hold for the rest of my life.
I've said this numerous times, but it bears repeating, I love the way Anne writes about her dogs. She writes with love, respect, and admiration about her beloved German Shepherds. One of the chapters I enjoyed the most in this book was where Anne gave thoughtful, helpful tips on how to help the grieving process along after detailing the death of Chekika. She treats the death of a dog with respect and sensitivity, giving the love you felt for your beloved pet the dignity and understanding it deserves.
Another aspect of Anne's writing that I thoroughly enjoy is the fact that she makes sure she celebrates her friendships. She makes it quite clear that though she is a strong, independent woodswoman, she hasn't come all this way on her own. She has had the help of many devoted friends. I find her willingness to address the importance of friendships in one's life admirable. Too often people dismiss the importance of friendships in order to either build up an image of self sufficiency or to highlight the importance of marriage. Anne manages to show how one can lead an independent, self sufficient life all the while enjoying deep friendships that are mutually beneficial.
Overall, the Woodswoman series is a superb group of memoirs. I would highly recommend reading through these wonderful books, soak them up and savor them.
I give it a 9/10.
I have been slowly making my way through Anne LaBastille's excellent Woodswoman series, having read the first book in January 2018 and the second book in January 2019. The first two books in the series, Woodswoman and Woodswoman II: Beyond Black Bear Lake are available on Amazon, and I'd highly recommend them. Unfortunately, the third and fourth books in the series, Woodswoman III and Woodswoman IIII, are currently out of print and therefore hard to come by. Thankfully I was able to acquire both, though for a rather hefty price, but when it comes to books, I'm definitely willing to make the spurge (usually).
This series gets better with each book, in my opinion, because you learn more and go deeper and deeper into Anne's life and career. With each book, it seems that Anne gets more confident in being more open and vulnerable. Woodswoman III covers Anne's third decade living in the Adirondacks. Among the subjects discussed in this book are her beloved dogs, peddling her books, her farm, changing life at her cabin n the lake, and growing environmental concerns.
As with the first two books, my favorite chapters are the ones where Anne talks about her dogs, though sadly, because each book covers roughly a decade, they all contain a sad chapter covering the death of a dog. This one features the decline and death of Condor. The way Anne writes about the decline and death of her beloved dogs is absolutely heart-wrenchingly beautiful. She brings me to tears every single time. Though I cried my eyes out through these chapters, my heart is always quickly soothed by the following chapters that detail the arrival of a new puppy, in this book's case it is Xandor who joins LaBastille's pack. I admire LaBastille all the more for these chapters, her love and devotion for her dogs is palpable, admirable, and moving.
I also enjoyed the chapters in which LaBastille writes about finding, buying, and settling into her farm, Kestrel Crest Farm. At the current stage of life Anne was in while the writing of this book, she found the hard Adirondack winters increasingly difficult to live out in her cabin on the lake, especially while trying to conduct business. A million things could go wrong or keep her from meeting deadlines and fulfilling her business engagements. Therefore, she made a compromise: She'd live part time at the farm, and part time at the cabin. This allowed her a bit more freedom, and made life a bit easier, all the while providing more storage space, an important commodity for the business woman. The farm was still in the Adirondacks, but easier to get to, and provided different opportunities to observe the workings of nature and wildlife.
I thoroughly enjoy LaBastille's writing. Her willingness to share her vulnerability, particularly her fears concerning the arson of her barns on her Kestrel Crest Farm property and the break-in at her cabin. She built a life on an image of a strong, independent, brave woodswoman, yet she shows no qualms in sharing her fears, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. She shares how her fear from the arson incident left her cold and scared, and ultimately led her to resign as a commissioner in the Adirondack Park Agency. Her continued willingness to be real and honest is admirable.
Overall, this series is a superb bit of writing. It's among the best collection of memoirs that I have had the pleasure of reading. I'd highly recommend it.
I give it a 9/10.
The show M*A*S*H is among my top five favorite TV shows, so naturally I started searching for books written by the cast. I wanted to get to know the actors better. This is how I stumbled upon Gary Burghoff’s (who played Radar O’Reilly) delightful memoir, To M*A*S*H and Back: My Life in Poems and Songs (That Nobody Wanted To Publish). I read through this book in about two or three sittings. It’s a quick and very enjoyable read. I found myself truly impressed with not only Burghoff’s impressive and well-rounded life, but also the intelligent, humble, and witty way in which he writes about it.
I learned a great deal about the man behind the beloved, bespectacled M*A*S*H character. Gary Burghoff was a trained stage actor and jazz musician. His claim to fame was actually the originating role of Charlie Brown on stage in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. On top of that, Burghoff is a poet, a songwriter, an inventor, a wildlife artist, an environmentalist, and as of the writing of this book, a writer. Pretty impressive, eh?
To M*A*S*H and Back is well paced, delightfully honest, and generally cuts to the point of things without too much fluff. Each chapter opens with a poem or a song that Burghoff wrote, which sets the theme/mood for that chapter. I was impressed with Burghoff’s honesty and willingness to show his vulnerability and own his mistakes. Not many men (or people in general) are willing to do so in such a public way. I was also impressed with how Gary spoke about the people in his life, even those that did him wrong, he handled the retelling with dignity and grace.
One fact that interested me as I read through this wonderful memoir was the fact that Burghoff is a Christian. I appreciated his candor and openness in discussing his spiritual/faith journey, his struggles with coming to know and understand God, and all that it entailed. The man is a true inspiration, with a resilient yet kind spirit, Burghoff is even more lovable than his onscreen character, Radar. Honest, witty, humorous, and well worded, I highly recommend this memoir.
I give it an 8/10.
I first stumbled upon Anne LaBastille about a year ago (in 2017) when I found her first memoir, Woodswoman, in an amazon search. Having grown up in the foothills of and having camped in the Adirondack Mountains annually for years now, the fact that she both lived in and was a certified guide for the Adirondacks intrigued me. I quickly read her first book and absolutely loved it. I found LaBastille fascinating.
Fast forward to this past summer (2018), my father gave me LaBastille's second book in her Woodswoman series, Beyond Black Bear Lake. I had stacks of other books that I had to read through before this one, books from authors and publishers that had to take priority, so I didn't actually have a chance to read it until just recently. It was certainly worth the wait.
Continuing on where Woodswoman left off, in Beyond Black Bear Lake LaBastille takes the reader through more of her life. She details the life of a freelancer and how she manages such a demanding, busy schedule all the while living off the grid. She explains how she deals with calls, mail, and invasive fans. LaBastile also shares her quest and journey to retreat even more into the wilderness and live the way Thoreau did over a 100 years before her, detailing the construction of her second cabin, Thoreau II.
I found the chapters in which LaBastille discusses her research on acid rain and its effects on the environment, particularly the Adirondacks, and her fight to keep nuclear waste out of the Adirondacks both fascinating and eye-opening. Other chapters I found most interesting were where she wrote about her dogs, the loss of Pitzi, which moved me to tears, and the gain of Condor and Chekika, and the bonds that she shared with these beautiful shepherds.
I highly recommend this book. It is a superb memoir, that also serves to educate the public on environmental concerns and conservation. Excellently written, well researched, Beyond Black Bear Lake finds LaBastille writing from her head and her heart.
I give it a 9/10.
I'm officially hooked on LaBastille's writing and will continue on in her Woodswoman series. Next up: Woodswoman III. ;)
As I mentioned in my review of Scott Berg's Kate Remembered, I've been on a Katharine Hepburn binge as of late. Me: Stories of My Life was second on my list of Hepburn books to read, and I have to say, it was interesting, enlightening, and an enjoyable read.
Me reads the way Hepburn speaks. Some parts read as though Hepburn is reminiscing to herself, piecing together the bits and pieces of her life and working through it, trying to make better sense of some things. There are quite a few realizations that Hepburn shares throughout the book and you get the feeling that they are new realizations that came to her as she looked back and worked through her past. Other parts read like she's speaking one on one with someone, sharing memories and telling stories. It's an interesting way to go about writing a memoir and it works well within the context of Hepburn's life.
The book is also organized in an interesting way. The chapters are divided into memories, particular times during Hepburn's life, people, etc. Some of her work (i.e. movies and plays) receive their own chapters, others are lumped into one chapter labeled "Movies", "Early Career", and "Early Films". There are 9 chapters that are about people, 10 people in all. One chapter covers her parents and there are other chapters for Howard Hughes, George Cukor, L.B Mayer, her housekeeper/companion Phyllis, and Spencer Tracy, among others.
There are actually four chapters about Spencer Tracy, those are the ones I found most interesting because Hepburn never talked a whole lot about Tracy, so these chapters give us a rare look at their life together. They are also the most vulnerable chapters in the book. One chapter, "Spencer", covers her thoughts on him as an actor, how they met, and the movies that they made. "Love" is about their romantic relationship, "Leaving the California House" is about her packing up and selling the house that she shared with Spencer, her thoughts, feelings, memories, and mementos surrounding the house.
The last chapter featuring Spencer Tracy is "Dear Spence", which is a letter Hepburn wrote to Tracy decades after his death while composing this book, in which she asks questions she never asked him when he was alive. This chapter has a feel of Hepburn trying to understand and come to terms with what truly went on within Tracy's own mind and their relationship. It was beautiful.
Overall, I found this book both fascinating and enlightening. I would highly recommend it to Hepburn fans, and Old Hollywood fans. I'd also recommend it as an excellent memoir to anyone who enjoys that genre. Truly wonderful.
I give it an 8/10.
I happened upon this book through a search on Amazon and it piqued my interest, so I took a chance on it. I’m glad I did because it was a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting read. Anne LaBastille earned a PH.D. in wildlife ecology and was a Commissioner of New York State’s Adirondack Park Agency for over 17 years. She was a licensed guide specializing in wilderness trips. When she and her husband divorced, she needed a place to live. She found the ideal spot: a twenty-acre parcel of land in the Adirondack Mountains, where she built the cozy, primitive log cabin that became her permanent home. Miles from the nearest town, LaBastille had to depend on her wits, ingenuity, and the help of neighbors for her survival. She chronicles her adventures on Black Bear Lake, capturing the power of the landscape, the rhythms of the changing seasons, and the beauty of nature’s many creatures. Most of all, she captures the struggle to balance her need for companionship and love with her desire for independence and solitude.
LaBastille writes in a way that is enjoyable for the reader to read and informative. I found her detailed thoughts and plans regarding the construction of her cabin and maintenance of it fascinating. I couldn’t help but feel a kinship with the author when she spoke about her love and awe of the natural beauty of the Adirondacks and her desire/need for independence. LaBastille is real, honest, upfront, but respectful to her story and those who ended up in it due to their close proximity with her. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in wilderness, the Adirondacks, and overall just going off the beaten trail.
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....