"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, October 26, 2023


Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Book Beginnings quote:
Dee Knapp was asleep when her husband, Gary, stumbled drunkenly into their white framed house after a night of drinking. Bracing for trouble, Dee jumped up and ran to the kitchen. Gary, muscular and compact with short black hair above a long face, was a decent fellow when sober, a brute when drunk.
Friday56 quote:
One reason Kevin Green flounder was that he hadn't graduated from high school. That hadn't been an impediment for earlier generations of blue-collar workers, including his dad, for in the early 1970s some 72 percent of American jobs required only a high-school education or less. By 2020, that will have fallen to 36 percent. One consequence is a plunge in earnings for those with limited education. In the 1970s, a male high-school graduate earned an average almost almost four-fifths as much as a male college graduate, but that has fallen to just over 50 percent. And those like Kevin who didn't graduate from high school do even worse.
With stark poignancy and political dispassion, Tightrope draws us deep into an "other America." The authors tell this story, in part, through the lives of some of the children with whom Kristof grew up, in rural Yamhill, Oregon, an area that prospered for much of the twentieth century but has been devastated in the last few decades as blue-collar jobs disappeared. About one-quarter of the children on Kristof's old school bus died in adulthood from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents. And while these particular stories unfolded in one corner of the country, they are representative of many places the authors write about, ranging from the Dakotas and Oklahoma to New York and Virginia. (Publisher)

Review: While the summary makes one think the book only focuses on the problems in America today, it also includes lots of positive and affirming examples to show what is happening, and what other communities can copy, to make the lives of people "who are left behind" better. Among them: "Annette Dove, who has devoted her life to helping the teenagers of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as they navigate the chaotic reality of growing up poor; Daniel McDowell, of Baltimore, whose tale of opioid addiction and recovery suggests that there are viable ways to solve our nation's drug epidemic." Kristoff and WuDunn have done nuanced and superb reporting about the lives of people, many of whom Kristoff knows personally. The book is full of stories that makes one want to turn away. How can this be happening in America? Yet, it is also impossible to look away. I've got to help do something so that this doesn't continue in America.

The title of the first chapter of Tightrope is "The Kids on the Number 6 School Bus." Kristoff grew up in Yamhill, Oregon, a rural town southwest of Portland. He and his friends rode the Number 6 bus to school. Throughout the book we meet other kids who rode the bus with Kristoff and learn what happened to their lives, starting with the five Knapp children, whose mother tried to shield them from the drunken anger of their father, Gary. Despite this, life in Yamhill in the 1970s seemed better than what many people had experienced in the past, during the Depression. It seemed "to echo "Curly's upbeat refrain from Oklahoma!, when he exulted, 'Everything's goin' my way.' Tragically, it didn't work out as hoped. The Knapps, like so many working-class families, tumbled into unimaginable calamity" (7). Kristoff goes on to talk about others who rode the bus with him to school. Now one-fourth of them are dead from "drugs, suicide, alcohol, obesity, reckless accidents, and other pathologies." These are super disheartening stories to read about.

In a lot of ways Tightrope is like Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance except Kristoff does not play himself as some kind of cult hero who has overcome all the odds, like Vance did in his book. And by the end of Hillbilly Elegy one is left with just an awful feeling of dread and regret, where the thought is only those capable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps will escape the miasma of poverty and drugs. Tightrope offers hope and suggestions for correcting the cited problems. In fact, the last chapter is called "America Regained" and an appendix has "Ten Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes to Make a Difference." Many/most of the suggestions are small but could lead to great changes if enough of us did them.  My favorite step is #4: Supporting education for at-risk kids, especially in early childhood. A $20 donation to Reach Out and Read, for example will cover the cost of bringing a new child into the national program that uses pediatricians to 'prescribe' reading and handing out books during visits to the doctor's office.

Kristoff and WuDunn close the book with this thought after they learn about the death of their friend, Clayton Green:
Whenever someone like Clayton dies an early death, whenever anyone falls to addiction, suicide, crime, or despair, we are all diminished. We had the means to do better. We can shore up the American dream so that the children today climbing aboard the Number 6 school bus -- and skipping into schools all across the country -- achieve more of the dreams that animate them, so that this truly becomes, in Woody Guthrie's vision, 'a land for you and me' (262).
Tightrope was this month's book club selection. Our group usually hosts over a dozen women, was small this month which allowed us a lot of time to really digest the book aloud. We ended up focusing on the appendix and its suggested steps. I was worried that members would be so put off by the serious nature of the topic and they wouldn't even read it. That was not the case. My husband and I listened to the audiobook book, narrated by Kristoff himself. We stopped the audio several times to discuss topics as we listened. My family had all read the book earlier, as Oregonians they were interested in the book because Kristoff published it just months before he attempted to run for governor in Oregon. I highly recommend it as both a book club selection and as an audiobook, though try to get a hold of the print version to check out all the photos.

These aren't the questions we used, but I found these on line. They are discussions questions used by the Episcopalian church in Indianapolis for a book study: Tightrope Discussion. I like the idea of Christians studying this book together since the book certainly brings up issues which Christians should be concerned about and they should want to do something to help!
Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader. First Line Friday is hosted by Reading is My Super Power. Share the opening quote from current book.The Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material. 


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