Steve’s Book Recommendations: Gift Guide 2018 #4

by Steve, Blog-Husband

Happy Holidays, Laura’s Fan Club!  It’s that time of year again where I share with you all the great reads I’ve enjoyed over the past year.  This year I’ve gone down the rabbit-hole of the 17th Century Connecticut Valley, binding together the various branches of my Puritan forefathers.  Golly, were they a fertile bunch.  But I’ve learned a lot about early colonial New England, and I urge you to learn a lot too.  Let’s take a look at The Great Migration, shall we?

Fraser, Rebecca.  The Mayflower:  The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America.  A pretty good read, relatively light.  Fraser follows the Winslow family over the course of the mid-17th Century, with their successes and failures.

Leach, Douglas Edward.  Flintlock and Tomahawk:  New England in King Philip’s War.  A classic. Published over fifty years ago, this history is still among the standard studies of the era.

Rowlandson, Mary.  The Sovereignty and Goodness of God.  The first bestseller in American history, becoming the model of one of the most popular genres in early American letters:  the captivity narrative.  Everybody at the time wanted to read about Mary’s harrowing experience of King Philip’s War.

Williams, John.  The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion.  Another captivity narrative, this one occurring in the aftermath of the Deerfield Massacre of 1704.

Cooney, Caroline B.  The Ransom of Mercy Carter.  I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s in the queue.  The book is a little off the path for me; it’s teen girl fiction.  But it looks interesting, not only because Mercy Carter is my second cousin nine-times removed (yes, she is a real historical figure). It seems to be a well-regarded proper historical fiction.  Mercy was indeed captured at Deerfield, marched to Quebec, and voluntarily became a member of the Kahnawake community.  Tweens and teens captured by Native Americans did occasionally decide to re-identify themselves as members of a culture totally different from the one in which they grew up.


Jobs and Kids

I’m taking a brief hiatus from holiday consumerism to write a brief blog post about college kids and jobs. I finished an article last week on the topic. I’m not sure when it will come out, but I’ll puff it here when it does. In the meantime, let me just pass along advice that I picked up when doing the article. This is advice that I’ve been hounding my own college kid about this past week.

The job outlook for college grads isn’t wonderful, especially for kids who have just concentrated on finishing their degrees without much thought beyond getting the BA and for kids who don’t have parents to grease the wheels of the economy with connections.

I spent a few hours doing keyword searches on the online job boards for college BAs with a liberal arts and no experience. Most of the jobs that turned up were Dunder Mifflin type jobs selling random stuff for about $15 per hour. That might be fine. It’s a way to move up in a company. Research shows that most kids with liberal arts degrees start off in sales positions; some move into Human Resources or marketing. But college grads should know what those kinds of jobs are and be aware that that’s where they’re going to end up with a major in History.

30 percent of kids don’t make it past their first year of college. A huge chunk fail out their first year, or they leave because they can’t handle the independence of a school or they hate the chaos of a dorm. I see this among the kids that graduated with Jonah. Some are honor student kids. One had a big running scholarship to a fancy school. College is tough, and many can’t handle it. They end up at community colleges or trade schools. Two of Jonah’s classmates are now selling stocks at Boiler Room-type places.

I’m hearing anecdotal stories about massive student loan debt. Like $100K to $200K. I think those numbers are super high in the Northeast, because working class families around here make too much to qualify for Pell grants. Then they have to go to grad school, because 65 percent of all jobs now require advanced degrees. And they can’t afford that next step, because they owe too much from undergraduate education.

Internships are the new normal for college students. But internships are for rich kids. Kids who have to work in the summer to help pay for college can’t afford to work for free. And many of those internships at the fancy colleges actually cost money, because they are in foreign countries or in other cities. Families who are struggling to just pay for college can’t take on that extra burden.

Colleges have dumped a ton of money into career development centers, which is great, I suppose. Some are better than others. Some offer real help; others hand the students a pamphlet on writing resumes. And only a small percentage of students are going to the centers, because it’s not required.

Guys are choosing very different majors than girls and are having much different outcomes on the job market.

Students, especially the dudes, are choosing large public colleges over small liberal arts colleges. In some ways, this is a good thing. The large public colleges are cheaper and have more resources. But many students can get lost in the system. The kids who survive the big school experience learn how to manage the system. They learn how to tap into the resources. Others get in the bubble of student life and have little contact with adults who can help them.

Alright, done with the brain dump right now. More later.






Commenter Book Recommendations: Gift Guide 2018 #3

Steve’s book gift guide will be here soon. Warning: his list this year is full of Puritan and Native American history books, because after doing lots of genealogy work, he found out his Puritan ancestors’ cousins were abducted by Indians and dragged off to Canada.

In the mean time, why don’t you all share your favorite books for the year? I’ll hyperlink your responses to Amazon. All genres are welcome.

Okay, let’s go.

Y81: “Twelve Rules for Life” and “The Three Body Problem.”

Wendy’s romance recs:
The Hollow of Fear, Sherry Thomas
The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang
Lethal White, Robert Galbraith
Hate Notes, Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward
Duke of Shadows, Meredith Duran
Hard Knocks, Ruby Lang
Burn For Me, Ilona Andrews
SEAL Camp, Suzanne Brockmann
Wanna Bet? Talia Hibbert
Jane Doe, Victoria Helen Stone

Wendy’s husband’s recs:
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Steven Pinker
At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, Michael Pollan

John B. — Churchill: Walking With Destiny by Andrew Roberts.

  • From Sandra
  • How to Stop Time – Matt Haig – love the time-traveling story
  • Beartown + Us Against You – both by Fredrik Backman – small-town, hockey, lots of interconnected people and their stories – I think growing up in a small town on the prairies drew me to these two books
  • The Witch Elm – Tana French – A stand alone novel (not part of her Dublin series) that is the best one that I’ve read so far to tackle privilege. Great characters, writing and dialogue. A version of one of my fave genres – “getting the band back together” where you read about a group of friends and/or family over a number of years.
  • An American Marriage – Tayari Jones – from last year but read it if you haven’t yet
  • Behold the Dreamers – Imbolo Mbue – the Lehman Brothers crash in novel form from the perspective of a number of different people. A good companion novel to Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Sunil Yapa) from a few years ago about the WTO protests in Seattle.
  • the Dry + Force of Nature – both by Jane Harper – I’ll read anything she writes – small town Oz detective


  • From AF
  • Lincoln in the Bardo (Saunders) – really interesting and weird. I liked it a lot.
  • Born A Crime (Trevor Noah’s autobiography). Some South African history I didn’t know or had forgotten. He’s had quite a life.
  • How It All Began (Penelope Lively) – intertwined stories, related people of different ages and backgrounds, well put-together. Not a rave but a pretty good read.
  • I tried to push myself through Sing Unburied Sing but couldn’t do it – too depressing at a time when I wasn’t up for being depressed. It seemed like it would be worthwhile if I had. I did not like Beatty’s The Sellout but others did.
  • I’ve now reread Anna Karenina twice to teach it for a grad-level humanities class and it holds up. Students, including an African American campus police detective who does not read novels, loved it too. Get the Volkhonsky and Pevear translation.
  • For the same class, I poked around and found a good book on early women’s suffrage efforts called Untidy Origins. It’s fun because the author has to poke around in all sorts of obscure records to put together what happened with a small group of women who filed a petition with New York State. This year I’m using another new book, Jennifer Graber’s The Gods of Indian Country: Religion and the Struggle for the American West. I haven’t read it yet but have really liked her other writings.
  • I always get the newest Flavia de Luce and First Ladies Detective Agency books. I’m reading the current Flavia now and enjoying it. One of my friends is really into the Louise Penney series and I might start that sometime.


  • From Doug
  • The House of Government by Yuri Slezkine, as good as it is long
  • The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, a novel about Russia that isn’t ginormous
  • Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin, essays and insights (Interviewer: Would you prefer to win the Hugo or the National Book Award? UKL: The Nobel, of course.)
  • Any Day Now by Terry Bisson, is awfully close to being the fourth perfect book
  • The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St Clair, great as an object that illustrates its thesis
  • The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple, how the White House chief of staff position is essentially a solved problem in politics, with an added chapter on how the Trump people managed to screw it up in all of the known ways
  • War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, definitely a late-1980s book and still awesome
  • I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett, the last great Discworld book (even though Raising Steam works better than it should)
  • Soviet Bus Stops (Volumes I and II) by Christopher Herwig, no really
  • Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner is in fact one of the perfect books
  • The 13 Clocks by James Thurber, fast and loopy and not like anything else


  • From Amy P
  • This is the most important book I’ve read in years: I think everybody who is getting married or having kids or thinking about it or knows anybody who is married or has kids needs to read that book. Not that it has all of the answers, but it’s important to know what the questions are.
  • Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West
  • Is It You, Me or Adult A.D.D. (Gina Pera has an excellent website at
  • I’m currently reading Delivered from Distraction, which is the sequel to the ADHD classic Driven to Distraction.


  • From Cranberry
  • If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together, by James Sexton

More on Leather: Gift Guide 2018 #2

More purses that don’t suck: The Born Prisha Crossbody Saddle, Frye Melissa, Sabrina Pocket Tote, and the Fossil Satchel.

Boys always need belts, so I’m buying both my kids Timberland belts this year.

A Moroccan leather pouf is a chair! a side table! a kid’s sensory roly-poly toy! a pop of color! It’s a wondrous item of furniture. I think I need one.

Another dude gift is a leather wallet. They never buy one for themselves, and their old one is probably beat.

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Leather, Wool, and Denim: Gift Guide 2018 #1

I’ve been dumping all the cheap, mismatched, ill-fitting crap in our closets and replacing them with one solid, permanent item. Three GAP purses out, one Frye purse comes in. I’m still watching Outlander, even though the show has completely fallen apart, partially because the clothes are so good. Yes, I’m dressing my family like they’re early colonists, what of it? I’m shopping for leather, waterproof, solid, and somewhat badass, manly items.

So, that’s why I’m digging everything by Frye right now. It’s manly and solid. I’m coveting Oxfords like these or these. (Amazon) The Chukka boot is nice. I also love this purse (like correction).


Madewell also has some nice bags, including this cute leather backpack and a velvet pouch for holiday parties.

I’ve gone back to wearing my old Docs and my Irish knit sweater from the 1990s. G2014_BR6755_ld.jpeg513IUnz7G0L._UX695_.jpg


When Steve’s messenger bag fell apart this year, we replaced it with one from the Buffalo Jackson Trading Company. Yeah, it isn’t cheap, but he’ll use it every day for years on his two hour train commute. It carries his history books and his ten-year old iPod. It’s worth checking out the website, just for the cute models in plaid shirts.


Along with his messenger bag, Steve’s wearing a Barbour waxed jacket. mwx0339ol71_ss18_front_model.jpg

Yeah, these items are pricy, but they last. Canada Goose jackets are out of our league, but if you’re going to buy them this Christmas, please order them here.

(more tomorrow)

The Return of the Apt. 11D Gift Guides!

All the conditions are right. I’ve turned in an article and can do nothing on it, until the editor hands me my dignity in a trashcan, aka edits, sometime tomorrow. Steve’s home for the day, because the market’s closed for 41’s funeral, so he’s taking Ian to swim lessons. We have lefties — a rather nice pasta sauce with meatball mix (beef, pork and veal) and collard green over shells — for dinner. The hot water is on the stove for tea, and an unopened bottle of red on the sideboard for later in the evening.

Yes, all the conditions are right for blogging about gifts.

You guys know the drill. If you buy something through an Amazon link on this blog — click on the link and then navigate to the thing that you really want — I’ll get a small kickback, which I’ll use later to buy boots. It’s the books to boots circle of life.

Thanks in advance. Let’s have fun tonight!


I spent two weeks tracking down a story that I heard from a friend. This then led to several conversations with three other people. I’m weaving their stories into an article right now. Today is rough draft day.

Rough draft days are always the worse. Partially, it’s because the writing process is never easy. Collecting information is fun. Editing is a bloodless, mechanical process. But writing that first draft is always tough, and requires many treats to get one through the process.

Also, on rough draft days, I’m weighed down by crafting the story in the right way. Writing up people’s stories is a major responsibility. When I’m interviewing people, I get them to trust me, and they tell me their truths. After twenty minutes, they warm up to me and tell me everything. It’s like a priest’s confessional. There is a vulnerability to the interview process.

Can they trust me? At some point, they decide yes and tell me everything. No money is exchanged. They share, because they feel they must. At the end, I sometimes hear a note of worry in their voices. Did they really tell me all that? How will I tell their story? Will I portray them as a villain or a saint? Subtle variations of language can a picture in twelve different ways.

I sometimes think about writing fiction, but conjuring up alternative realities requires a power of imagination that I don’t possess. But I think that there is less responsibility with writing fiction, than non-fiction or journalism. Nobody can be hurt by your words. No real person at any rate.

So, I have some obligations to this blog and to the unanswered e-mail in my gmail account, but those obligations must wait. I have to do the right thing for people who talked to me and trusted me this past couple of weeks. I have to tell a story.