Our Towns by James and Deborah Fallows

Officially titled Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America¬†which is a mouthful to put at the top. James and Deborah Fallows are reporters who decided to travel across the United States and write about what they saw in the towns that no one visits. They went to these so-called “fly-over” cities and dug into what really makes this country so appealing. They visited some cities that we’ve heard of such as Fresno, California and Columbus, Ohio, but most of the cities I had never heard of such as Ajo, Arizona; Duluth, Minnesota; Eastport, Maine, and so many more.

What they did when they got to these cities was met the people. They met people in these tiny cities who had lived there all their lives. They met people who came from big cities like New York and L.A. and fell in love with the small town they were relocated to. They met small-town mayors who were working their tails off to better the city in any way they could. They met with school officials who were making a difference in the lives of children that would probably otherwise be forgotten. The Fallows’ wanted to know what made America tick, and they found it in these little po-dunk towns.

Schools were a big theme I found in this book. Every city they went to there was a school mentioned. Many different schools. In a few cities there was a school that was rundown. Small classrooms, not a whole lot of supplies. But the students were proud of their city still. They wanted to help raise it up. In other cities there were schools doing extraordinary things. Schools that started a community garden and sold their crops at local farmers markets. An elementary schools that had a sole focus on engineering. I read about a high school that went from a 44% graduated rate up to a 96% graduation rate because the students were given the help they needed to prepare for college. These are the leaders of tomorrow and they love the little towns they grew up in.

My favorite cities were Duluth, Minnesota and Winters, California. Duluth because it sounded kind of similar to my hometown of Morgan Hill, California. Not the smallest city, but cozy. Has a downtown where restaurants and boutiques thrive. I liked Winters because it was the town I always wished I did come from. So small that all of the kids at the high school had gone through all schooling together. Families that had known one another for generations. All packed tightly in the woods near Yosemite. I think maybe I’ll retire to Winters.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book for those of you looking to find hope for this country. Or maybe for those of you searching for a new home.

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Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Never have I ever read a book that was so in depth about any one subject. If you’ve ever thought about going into the business of wine, you need to read this book (and also be willing to drop everything going on in your life). Bosker took me on a journey that I was not ready for and that I didn’t realize I was craving. She trains for the Certified Sommelier Test like a person whose life depends on passing. Of course, according to the people we meet throughout the book, everyone trains that way.

These people… theses “Somms” are some of the most passionate people on the planet. They talk about this alcoholic beverage as if it has life-changing qualities. And I bought into every single word of it. I fell in love with wine while reading this book, and I still don’t even know that much about it. It made me want to meet Bosker in person and spend a week with her just so she can teach me about wine.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the book though is the scientific outlooks. Bosker met a bunch of doctors whose sole purpose in life was to figure out how our noses work. They helped her better understand the wine she was drinking and train her senses to guess the wine before she tasted it. But Bosker also read studies that put her in doubt about wine having certain characteristics. Studies that proved sometimes we humans can’t tell the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $1000 bottle. There were also studies that showed that those of us who can tell the difference between the bottles, think that the $1000 wine is better just because of its price.

Bosker went on to pass the test and become a certified Sommelier. I applaud her dedication and the dedication of everyone and anyone who finds something that they can throw themselves into wholeheartedly. I wish I could find a career that allowed me to read with as much passion as these people drink wine.

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Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Most “coming-of-age” stories are the same. Or at least, fairly similar. Small-town girl moves to a big city. Girl gets a job in which she struggles at first. Girl falls for a boy that is bad for her while conveniently ignoring the boy that is good for her. In the end, the girl’s dreams come true and she ends up with the good guy. Sweetbitter follows that format for the first few steps, but it has the furthest this from a happy ending that I’ve ever read.

The story of Tess is a common one told in a very uncommon way. It felt like reading philosophy. The way the characters spoke to each other felt like it should have been performed on a stage. The really fucked-up relationships between characters made the story very raw. The rampant sex and illicit drug use made it feel like a teen drama. All of this combined into a great story.

My only issue was with the ending (Spoilers). I’m glad Tess leaves the restaurant. I’m glad that nothing is resolved between her and the bad boy. Stuff like that made the ending intriguing. What I didn’t like was that Tess got fucked (literally) by her boss after asking for a promotion. I lost all respect for Tess that I had gained throughout her story. And then she basically gets fired anyway. Maybe that’s what Danler wanted though. Kind of a broken ending for a very broken character.

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Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I love books about food. Mostly because I love actual food. But the way people write about it makes it sound like such a magical experience. Robin Sloan is no exception. She did, however, put a more scientific spin on it.

Lois Clary is a robot programmer from Michigan trying to make a living in San Francisco. She befriends two brothers who make food she loves including sourdough bread. When the brothers leave, they gift Lois with their sourdough starter. So begins Lois’ journey in finding herself within the sourdough. Is she a robot programmer? Is she a baker? Turns out she’s both.

In the most basic explanation, the book is a coming-of-age story, but it’s one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Sloan really captured what our generation is like in one beautiful quote: “we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.” This quote lingered in my mind through reading the book, resonated with me on an emotional level. Probably due to the fact that I am a huge Potterhead (Ravenclaw thank you very much), but also because of its truth. We want to know where we belong. We want to be told where we need to be. Even if it is an undesirable place.

So, read Sourdough.

Join Lois on her journey.

Go on one of your own.

Love something like some people love bread.

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