Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating talks about dating, from its early beginnings in the early 20th century to today. It is not a scholarly work, as it quotes abundantly and occasionally gratingly from the popular press and the author’s own experience. The author does make interesting points about how the rules of dating are linked to economic power, and how modern technology does not radically change the game.
It must be fashionable for grown men to write about their childhood bullies. Unlike Whipping Boy, however, Bullies: A Friendship focuses on the present. The author’s one-time bully is now the president of a motorcycle club in Oakland, CA, and the author, somewhat strangely, sets out to explore in great detail the activities of the club, depicting Oakland as a drug-infested den of violence and hopelessness which leaves locals, and even semi-locals like me shaking our heads. Yes, there are very dangerous places in Oakland but even the author acknowledges that he managed to live there for months in complete safety, apart from his repeated trips to the infamous triangle where his ex-bully, now supposedly “friend”, operates. It turns out that motorcycle “clubs” (I would say gangs) are very violent and 200 pages of that simultaneously turned my stomach and bore me immensely. Stay away from psychopaths.
Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship is a lovely story of how a young woman who just separated from her husband (and, apparently and rather drastically, her daughter) gets solace from scrumptious dinners with the elderly father of a friend who needs cheering up as he ages, without his beloved wife. The recitation of the menus seems overdone in a sea of similar book structures, but I loved the soft, yet lucid focus on how hard it is to age and slowly lose the ability to do simple tasks, not to mention equally aged friends.
The hero of The Second Girl should be a disgraced ex-police officer, but he was allowed to retire quietly instead, and he how uses his investigative skills as a PI with a solid drug habit that he carefully hides from others. After accidentally rescuing a teenager who had been kidnapped by a gang, he is hired by the parents of another — and chaos ensues. The non-hero carries the story, which unfolds seamlessly. The only false note is a would-be romance with his lawyer-partner, but it is only a tiny part of the story. A gripping tale.
Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully recounts the author’s obsession with finding the tormentor from this sixth-grade year in an exclusive Swiss boarding school. I found the memories from boarding school fascinating, with a mix of old-world propriety, eccentric headmaster, and wealthy students — but the adventures of the elusive bully bored me. Not that the level of criminal inventiveness is not remarkable, involving a fake Duke, phantom countries, and an entirely fraudulent trust that extracted millions of dollars from rather gullible seekers of capital. But the minutiae of the story overshadows the portrait of a textbook psychopath.
The United States often thinks of itself as a classless society, but of course that’s a delusion, as the author of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America demonstrates, starting with the first immigrants who promptly created local versions of aristocracy — and very familiar patterns of contempt and exclusion of the poor, in particular through nonexistent or substandard education. Along the way she introduces many elitists, including Harriett Beecher Stowe, who wrote rather disturbing anti-poor literature, and the eugenists who sterilized Carrie Buck, and (a few) others who introduced more inclusive politics. Class may not be as explosive a topic as race, but perhaps it should be.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things is a collection of essays and real-life stories by the author, who shares her struggles with depression and a host of other psychological ailments in a voice that is in turn hilarious and poignant. I thought the personal memories were told in a wonderful manner, discussing mental illness with welcome openness. The humor parts I did not think so funny! Many seem aimless and others seemed off-mark to me.