Thursday, February 8, 2007


Life's not fair, is it? The following books all feature great suffering. You might find them interesting, or depressing. If you're one of those Goth kids at the mall you might find them dark and sinister. You don't have to read them (this is America, not too many people read here). Just walk around with one as a sort of disturbing prop. As for me? They make me feel very lucky. I'm not one of those liberals who hates America. I like it here and realize that I'm very fortunate. These books are about people who are just as good as I am, but luck of the draw made their lives very hard.
The point is: it doesn't matter what race you come from, all of us had ancestors who had to deal with these kinds of really bad situations. Many still suffer just as much worldwide today. It's good for us Americans to get in touch with that once in a while.
Wherever you are, enjoy a dose of reality...

The rating system is based on how difficult a book is to read, not how good it is. All the books at Hansisgreat come highly recommended.

* <-----------> ** <-----------> *** <-----------> **** <----------> *****
Easy - - Pretty Easy - - Moderate - - Pretty Challenging - - Challenging

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
$14.00 at ISBN: 014303958X
** (pretty easy)
The story revolves around a family from Lithuania who came to Chicago along with thousands of other immigrants to get jobs in the meat-packing industry. This book is famous for the gruesome scenes involving contaminated sewer meat, and the horrors of the killing floor where endless lines of animals have their throats cut before being butchered. The touching story of Jurgis and Marija, the leading characters, brought attention to many abuses as the couple worked themselves to death in pitiless sweatshops. This book brought much needed attention to the working conditions of poor Americans, and to the need for regulation of the meat industry. Many people have become vegetarians after reading Sinclair's vivid descriptions of the slaughterhouses. The simple prose makes it easy to read, so you're sure to put it down out of disgust and sadness rather than boredom.
The Great Mortality, by John Kelly
$14.95 at ISBN:0060006935
*** (moderate)
An intimate history of the Black Death, the most devastating plague of all time. Now we're getting somewhere! There are quite a few books on the plague, this is the best I've read. In October 1347 a ship arrives in Sicily with dying men at the oars. The stricken had strange, black swellings called buboes, and would soon succumb to violent, painful fevers, often spitting up blood. Everything that came from them stank of death, and a deep depression accompanied the earliest physical symptoms. A third of the world perished, many after the horrors of seeing their entire family expire. There's a little bit of sciencey stuff here: different forms of the virus, how it is transmitted, and all that. Nothing too tough to follow. Often set against the backdrop of overwork, famine, and pillaging wars, the lives of plague victims and the survivors created a pessimism that would cast a dark shadow over the coming century.
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.
$11.20 at ISBN: 0142000663
**** (pretty hard)
In the 1920s the central US experienced the dust bowl, years during which windy conditions and dusty soil prevented the raising of crops, causing many small farmers to go bankrupt. One such family, the Joads, travels west to California, to earn a living picking fruit. At first I felt these people and I had nothing in common: they're poor rubes who don't know anything and aren't very polished. Before long I found myself connected with them, and moved by their suffering. I rated it "pretty hard" because it's a lengthy 464 pages, and the first two chapters are a bit slow. Chapter 5 is my favorite: about the banks foreclosing on people's homes, practically starving and deep in debt. You're sure to be into it at this point. Their peilous cross-country journey and the adventures that await them in their new home with keep you captivated. Today, nearly forty years after his death, John Steinbeck remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures.

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