Publish & Perish

Publish & Perish (Ben Reese, #1)Publish & Perish by Sally Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was one of my random reads from drawing slips at the beginning of the year. I drew three slips from my “new series” pile. This was on my TBR because later titles in the series were take-offs on Jane Austen titles, an old “theme” that still gets my attention. And the main character has a Welsh last name – Ben Reese – so that got my attention too, and the next book in the series takes place in Scotland, and he is an archivist interested in rare books, coins, paintings, and ancient documents so that all appealed to me.

It’s an old series, published in 1997, but set in 1960. Reviews have compared the author to Dorothy Sayers. I think that’s a stretch but it does have something of that flavor revolving around academia. It started a bit slow, but it grew on me. I’ve already started the second book Pride & Predator. Although marketed as “Christian” fiction, I didn’t find anything off-putting here. He talks about God, and ponders some theological/existential questions but there is nothing pushing his views (or the author’s views) on anyone else. Nothing incompatible with my own decidedly liberal views.

The set up for a series is okay – we get to know the main character, but there is not much in the way of character development for anyone else. The plot moves quite slowly and is mostly introspective until the very end. More thoughtful than action, with some subtle humor. Still, I liked Ben Reese enough to want to read more and find out more about him and what makes him tick.

Book description: Publish And Perish, the first Ben Reese novel, begins in 1960 at an academic research institute near Oxford, England, though the story grows out of tangled relationships at the small Ohio university where Ben Reese is an archivist – an expert in antiquities, in coins and paintings and the dating of ancient texts. He’s also a thirty-seven year old veteran of WWII; a behind-the-lines reconnaissance expert who captured German command posts across France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany until he was stopped by a Tiger Tank.

His war experiences aren’t something he talks about easily. He’s a quiet man, who lives close to the country, and rides his horse, and enjoys the accomplishments of long dead craftsmen, while he tries to get over the death of his wife. It isn’t until his closest friend dies, minutes after phoning Ben in England, that Ben has to rely again on the characteristics that kept him alive from Omaha Beach to the Saarbrucken Forest. Ben looks under a lot of academic rocks at the politics, prejudice and ambition that had to be navigated even then by those with unpopular opinions. That leads the killer to come after Ben with a calculated brutality that takes Ben back to the war, and makes the question of his own survival more than a matter of academic interest.

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Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is an autobiography by a young man from a very dysfunctional working-class family in Ohio. He survived a family culture of violence, broken relationships, and addiction due to the steady influence of his “hillbilly” grandparents who instilled the importance of education, and to a stint in the Marines which taught him self-respect and self-discipline. It is a book which is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I gave it 4-stars for being entertaining and inspiring, reflective and insightful, but I would want to read more before assigning his experience to a whole cultural region. He is a generation removed from Appalachia, and surely not everyone there comes from dysfunctional families. So if you are looking to understand the results of the 2016 election, his political and economic analysis is superficial at best. The issues that he faced and overcame are not unique to Appalachia.

Book description: Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for more than forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck. The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually one of their grandchildren would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that J.D.’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. With piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his chaotic family history.