The book was probably originally titled "Why The $#%^ Do I Love These #$%^ing People?!?"...
I really enjoyed Po Bronson's "What Should I DO With My Life" and he's one of my favorite writers. (Especially his fiction books.) Even if I'm not very interested in the plot or the characters, I enjoy watching a master craftsman & marketer ply his art. I had high hopes for WDILTP-- but the writing & research seems more interesting than the book itself. I guess if a book leaves me a little confused & frustrated then it's better than my summertime novels.
Based on WSIDWML and all his marketing tricks, I'd read a library copy of WDILTP in hardcover but I'd wait to buy the paperback. Next spring he'll probably release an expanded paperback with more stories and perhaps even a DVD.
But you don't even have to wait that long to decide if you want to read it. Po's website
has sample chapters-- my favorite from the book is "Dorothy's Child", with "Halftime" a close second. "The Tornado" is pretty scary.
You should also read about Naperville, IL
, which is either Ozzie&Harriet Land or Stepford Town. My apologies to all you fine residents of what apparently is America's most above-average town, but Po's description is creeping me out a little.
The book itself is a collection of stories about 19 families, distilled from his interviews with over 700 people during the last three years (no, the Nords family didn't even make the initial cut). Your first impression is that these are some seriously messed-up families but then, if you're like me, you'll find at least one chapter where you'll wonder if Po's camera crew was following you around. There are also a couple situations where you'll be thinking "There but for the grace of God…" so if for no other reason, the book is a good read just to satisfy our voyeuristic instincts.
Po raises interesting perspectives to the issues of:
- How long should we keep trying to engage troublesome family members? When do we give up, walk away, and get on with our lives?
- What do we do, if anything, about marital monogamous boredom?
- Do we protect our kids or let 'em pay tuition at the School of Hard Knocks?
- Do we have to forgive those who've hurt us, or do they have to apologize first?
- Should we break our silence and tell the truth, even at the cost of the family? What kind of example should we set?
I really enjoyed the "Halftime" chapter, which draws on Stephanie Coontz'
demographic research of the families of the 1950s. He points out that what many see as the dissolution of the traditional nuclear family is a myth perpetrated by short memories. For example, even in 1960 fewer than 60% of American kids were being raised in "traditional" families. When 1950s families started fleeing to the suburbs and having more kids, it was decried as the breakdown of the extended family (Grandma & Grandpa stayed in the city) and an ominous deviation from a 300-year trend toward fewer kids.
Divorce is another short-term myth. Desertion & separation, huge issues in 19th and early 20th-century America, don't show up in divorce statistics. The divorce rate spiked to an "end-of-the-world" 25% in the late 1940s but for every divorce there were 1.5 separated couples. In the early 1900s a third of all teenagers lived in a single-parent family by death, desertion, or separation. When the legal process of divorce was simplified in the 70s, the divorce rate zoomed up (probably by resolving all those desertions & separations) and never came down.
Parenting is another rose-colored glasses issue. True, parents are working longer hours and kids are spending more time in childcare. But time-motion studies dating back to 1915 show that parents spend more time today interacting directly with their kids than ever before. That time comes at the expense of housework & sleep-- but it really is "quality time" instead of a full day of domestic forced labor with a little child supervision on the side.
Are kids spending way too much time in front of the TV? Or are they overscheduled with school, extracurricular activities, community leagues, and enrichment? Both are perceived to be serious issues, but it can't be both ways.
So if you read the book and bog down in a chapter, skim it & move on. You'll eventually finish. What I'm finding far more interesting is The Factbook
, which summarizes Bronson's research.
But Po Bronson's ponderous subject matter has cured me of non-fiction for a while. Spouse & I will have a lot of interesting discussions from Bronson's book, but I'll be reading more Alan Dean Foster and looking for Richard K. Morgan's latest...