#BookReview: The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell

Before You Talk About The Student Loan Problem, Read This Book. Here, Mitchell does a phenomenal job of going from the very beginning – before World War I even – and showing just how the student loan problem grew from a well-intentioned idea into the massive debt bomb that we are now struggling with at all levels. Other than one short, couple of pages – if that – section near the end, Mitchell keeps all personal ideas and politics out of the narrative, instead focusing on as objective a reporting of the events as they unfolded as I’ve ever seen. Indeed, there are only two things that I can think to ding him on at all here, and neither one quite warrants a star reduction:

1) Throughout the narrative, particularly once his timeline gets into the 1990s and 2000s eras, Mitchell doesn’t account for the rise of State-sponsored lottery-funded scholarship programs. Though upon a bit of research, it seems that these only exist primarily in the Southeast: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia. Though I’ve lived in three of those States and had my college funded by Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship – it is at least plausible that anyone living outside of those States, or without close friends or family in them, has never heard of these programs. (And yet even with HOPE, I still managed to amass a $20K student debt load that had ballooned to nearly $40K before I began actively repaying it – upon threat of legal action – largely due to exactly the forces Mitchell describes in this text, but mostly because I was an idiotic 18yo and it was “free money”. Though I’m proud to note that as of this moment, I have less than the various forgiveness amounts that are being bandied about in DC – which Mitchell also covers, in a near up-to-the-minute fashion, even 2 months before publication of this book. An amount that I *will* pay off before the current suspension of interest – signed by President Trump and extended by President Biden – expires, currently slated for less than two months after this book is published.)

2) The Bibliography is a bit scant at only about 15% of the text, though there is a decent portion of the book – focusing on a singular case study in recurring episodes throughout the narrative – where Mitchell conducted extensive interviews and examinations of the relevant documents personally.

Overall truly an excellent, objective look at the history and many factors that have created today’s student loan problem. And as GI Joe once said, “knowing is half the battle”. Very much recommended.

This review of The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell was originally written on June 12, 2021.

#BookReview: Haven Point by Virginia Hume

Excellent Debut. First off, I have to thank a very particular PR person at St Martin’s – they know who they are, I’m not going to publicly name them in this review. I had requested this book on NetGalley around the time I first saw it there, and after several weeks languishing in my “Pending Requests” queue there, I finally contacted a contact at SMP I’ve worked with on various other ARCs and Blog Tours in the past, and that person was able to approve my request for this book, and viola. I’m reading it. ๐Ÿ˜€ So while I normally don’t even mention this level of activity in reviews, this effort was unusual and therefore it deserves this unusual step of thanking the person involved directly in the review.

Having told (vaguely) the story of how I obtained this ARC, let me now note what I actually thought about the book, shall I? ๐Ÿ˜€

As I said in the title, this really was an excellent debut. There are a lot of various plot threads weaving themselves in and out of focus over the course of 60 or so years, and anyone of a few particular generations, particularly those from small towns, will be able to identify readily with many of these threads. In 2008, we get a grandmother waiting to reveal some secrets to her twentysomething/ thirtysomething grand daughter – this actually opens the book. Then we get both the grandmother’s life story – up to a particular pivotal summer – interspersed with the granddaughter’s life story – mostly focused on two summers in particular, but with some updates in between. The jumps in time are sequential, but not always evenly spaced, so for example we start the grandmother’s tale during WWII when she is serving as a nurse and is courted – in the rushed manner of the era – by a charming doctor. When we come back to her tale after spending some time in the granddaughter’s life, we may be days later or we may be years later, depending on how deep in the story we are at this point. Similarly, when we leave the granddaughter in 1994, we may come back to later that summer or we may come back to 1999. (Or even, more commonly for the granddaughter’s tale, back to 2008.) 2008 serves as “now”, and the histories of the two women remain sequential throughout the tale. The editing, at the beginning of the chapter, always makes clear where we are in the timeline, and yet this style of storytelling *can* be jarring for some. So just be aware of this going in.

But as a tale of generational ideas, aspirations, and difficulties… this tale completely works on so very many levels. Perhaps because I find myself of a similar age as the granddaughter, and thus much of what she lives, I’ve also lived – particularly as it relates to a small town home town and its divisions.

And, for me, Hume actually has a line near the end of the tale (beyond the 90% mark) that truly struck a chord: “Haven Point has its flaws, of course it does. But while it might not be the magic that some pretend, there was never really the rot she claimed either.” Perhaps the same could be said of my own “small town” (it now has a population north of 100K) home town.

Ultimately, this was a phenomenal work that many will identify with but some may struggle with. I will dare compare it to The Great Gatsby in that regard and in this one: keep with the struggle. It is worth it. Very much recommended.

This review of Haven Point by Virginia Hume was originally written on June 5, 2021.

#BookReview: We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia

Mostly Solid Work A Bit Misguided By Its Own Biases. This is one of the more comprehensive books I’ve found about the actual issues facing Autistics in the current world (circa 2020) – well, in the US anyway. Discussions of education, gender, housing, personhood, etc are mostly solid and mostly problem free, focusing on numerous interviews the author has conducted over several years combined with well documented (roughly 32% of the text of this Advance Reader Copy I read) research.

It even has two *extremely* good points:
1) “We don’t know what Autism in and of itself looks like. We only know how autism informed by trauma presents itself.” -Cal Montgomery
2) From the close of Chapter 9: “People who are not Autistic often assume they are acting benevolently by hand-holding those on the spectrum. But despite their best intentions, there is an element of condescension in thse actions because it assumes that non-Autistic people know what’s best. But it is Autistic people who live with the condition of Autism – for all of its positives and negatives – as well as the consequences of any collective action meant to help them. If there is going to be policy that has seismic impact on their lives, they deserve to have a say it in, no mater how they communicate. Furthermore, while many parent advocates, clinicians, and other “experts” may have good intentions, centering their voices continues to give them power that should lie with the Autistic community. To achieve any true sense of freedom, Autistic people need to take this power back.”

HOWEVER, the fact that the discussion routinely ignores and even outright dismisses the needs and challenges of white Autistics and/ or Autistics who *do* find meaningful employment in the science and/ or technology sectors means that the book fails to have truly the comprehensive discussion of the condition that it seems to seek to have. In ignoring these facets, it doesn’t truly “change the Autism conversation” in any truly helpful manner, as it blatantly ignores and dismisses a key component that can actually do quite a bit of good in trying to address all of the other issues the narrative does go in detail on. We Autistic technologists can create the very technologies Garcia sometimes points to as being needed, in part because we ourselves truly do live with these very same issues – and thus, we don’t actually need a neurotypical trying to approximate some solution, as we can create a solution that works for our own particular case and allow for it to be customized to fit other cases as well.

Ultimately this truly is a very strong look at the state of Autistic society today and the issues Autistics face in trying to fully integrate into larger neurotypical societies, it simply missed its potential to be so much more. Very much recommended.

This review of We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia was originally written on March 14, 2021.

#BookReview: Unraveled by Maxine Bedat

Eye Opening, Yet Critically Flawed. Bedat does *phenomenal* work in this text when reporting what she has found in her investigations of trying to track even a “typical” cotton *garment* from the cotton seed to its eventual use and destruction. Using each chapter as a way to trace one particular step in the chain was truly a stroke of editing genius, as it concentrates just what is happening at that particular stage. And some of it – including the direct link, in Bangladesh at minimum, between garment factories and sex work (where in one particular harrowing tale, a source tells Bedat that when she gets in the van to be taken to a factory as a day worker, she sometimes finds herself at a massage parlor instead) – is utterly horrific. It is these sections of the book that are *so* strong that the book *had* to be rated fairly highly.

HOWEVER, when Bedat speaks almost at *all* of policy or her own opinions… well, this is when the critical flaws become apparent. To be fair, she *is* at least somewhat more balanced than many leftists, and outright points out things that ardent Bernie Sanders / AOC types won’t want to hear. But in her attacks of “neoliberalist capitalism” – a running strawman throughout the narrative – … eh, I’ll be a touch gentle and go with “YMMV”. If you happen to be on that side, you’re going to love her commentary here. If, like me, you find yourself more an adherent of Milton, Mises, Hayek, Bastiat, etc (the so-called “Austrian School of Economics)… you’re not going to like her commentary so much. The star reduction, to be clear, isn’t from the fact that I don’t like much of the commentary – but that I can so easily refute it, despite not being a trained economist (just a – clearly ๐Ÿ˜‰ – well read human :D).

And yet, the actual reporting here is simply too strong, too eye opening. This is a book that *needs* to be read for its current issues reporting, if for no other reason – and even if her commentary leads one to contemplate defenestration of the book. If you’ve read Hafsa Lodi’s Modesty or Virginia Postrel’s Fabric of Civilization (among presumably numerous other recent texts on fashion / clothing/ fabric), do yourself a favor and read this one too. Even if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and read all three books. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Very much recommended.

This review of Unraveled by Maxine Bedat was originally written on February 20, 2021.