PSA-230406-Book Report

Reading Main Street by Sinclair Lewis is another line ticked off my bucket list. I scored it four stars. Lewis was an accomplished writer and told a good story in Main Street, but I thought it was a little too slow. Of course that is exactly what he was writing about. His story takes place in a small town in Minnesota called Gopher Prairie. That name struck me as being a funny. I had to look it up. Gopher Prairie is a fictional town patterned after the author’s home town of Sauk Centre, Minnesota.

The main character in this story is Carol a native Minnesotan who gets the idea that she wants to change the world one town at a time. The problem is that she can only see that a town is not to her liking. She really doesn’t know, nor can she describe what an ideal town looks like, only that Gopher Prairie is not to her vision. She meets and marries a local man Will Kennicott a local country doctor who is several years her senior.

Although she agreed to live in Gopher Prairie with he husband Will, she never finds a single thing she likes about the town, or the people who live there. At best she tolerates the people and endures the simplicity of the town of three thousand people. As she described the town I got an image of a place I would like to live.

Carol and Will have a baby, a son. One would think that the child would change the mother’s attitude. Even though she loves the child she he does not change her idea about the town. In the mean time her husband being a country doctor is on the go and out of the house long and often. Carol is not satisfied with keeping a house and raising a baby, she wants more.

My personal opinion is that Carol needed a therapist, but therapists didn’t exist in Gopher Prairie in the early 1900’s. After suffering for several years with this dilemma she decides that the best thing for her to do is to move away to a big city where her vision of perfection would be satisfied. She reminded me of actress Cher in the movie Moonstruck when her fiancee is hopelessly complaining, and Cher hauls off and slaps him across the head, and shouts “snap out of it.”

I did enjoy reading this story, but I couldn’t give it more than four stars. It was slow at times and the author tried to get into the heads of his characters a little too much for my comfort.

Sinclair Lewis is a renowned author having won a Pulitzer Prize for his work, and Main Street was his most successful book. Regardless of Carol’s opinion about Gopher Prairie, I would have loved to grow up there. At the time the town population was 3000. That is very similar to the population of Frankfort, IL when I moved here. I thought the town was idyllic, quiet, pastoral and close to rural. Over the past thirty years it has grown, as has the entire surrounding area, and the charm is now replaced with excessive vehicle traffic, huge schools, oodles of franchises, and too many policemen. The historic district is where all newcomers want to live because it most closely resembles small town America. My ideal town is featured in an old movie titled “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. This type of town still exists in the USA, but they are far away from big cities and are dying out.

With the current population influx of immigrants from everywhere, our small towns are all bound to grow as poor people look for places that are affordable, and free from too much regulation. Eventually, our cities will resemble those in China where cities like Shanghai exceed twenty millions souls. During the COVID 19 shutdown I researched Wuhan to learn that it is not a single city, but a cluster of several cities blending into one another for a whopping population of sixty million. They sure as hell can’t relate to the story of Main Street at all.

Will I Ever Learn?

I find it humorous that it has taken me a lifetime to learn what a community organizer is, and I’m still not sure I understand it yet. In the latest book I read “In Dubious Battle,” author John Steinbeck created a narrative about 1930’s workers starving to death while searching for work. The great Depression had forced many people out of their livelihood and into desperation. People from all over the US had migrated to California where they heard there were jobs harvesting fruits and vegetables. The one thing these poor souls did not figure on is that there would be a hundred people ahead of them for each job that existed. The situation was a big benefit for the growers because the workforce was quickly available and they could reduce pay to a bare minimum. Workers who were broke from the long trip getting to the promised land accepted what ever was offered. As more, and more people came to pick apples the growers lowered the pay to those coming in last. The more pickers a farmer had the quicker his crop was harvested, and the shorter the work lasted.

In this story, Steinbeck follows a family who has been running from job to job only to learn that they could not earn a living at the wages paid. However, they were not alone. The encampment where the migrants stayed while at a farm was filled to the capacity with new workers coming in daily. Conditions were appalling, and hunger abounded. In come Mack, and his friend Jim, fresh off a boxcar from a town that was lacking in jobs. Neither of these men had any intention to become apple pickers, but they did harvest men to a cause. The growers referred to these men as “reds” because they associated themselves with the Communist Party of America. Mack’s sole objective was to organize this camp into a mob with a goal to get higher wages. Mack was good at finding men who were natural leaders, who people would follow. Mack also taught the leaders the tricks of staying out of jail.

The eventual outcome of this story is that the pickers went on strike. They were trained by Mack, a community organizer. I’ll stop exposing the story here. Read the book to learn who won the Dubious Battle.

The first time I heard the term “community organizer,” was during the 2008 presidential campaign. It turns out that Barack Obama began his career as a community organizer before getting into politics. After reading Obama’s biography I learned that his job as a C.O. was in a neighborhood near my own boyhood neighborhood of Burnside called Altgeld Gardens. Other than knowing where Altgeld Gardens was I didn’t know a thing about it except that is was a dangerous place. After later research I learned it was a government housing project for poor blacks. As are most government projects this place was badly neglected, and a once proud community had become a ghetto. Obama speaks about his time there, but never really speaks about accomplishing anything other than to get a few people to meet as a group to identify common problems and to learn which government agency to call for help.

This month I scoured Netflix for a new series to watch, and found one called The English Game. This story too, has a theme of rich versus poor, and of course the rich are very organized and the poor are not. The rich mill owners face a downturn in business and they solve the problem in the only way they know which is to cut wages. The mill workers are a bit more sophisticated than the pickers of the western states, but they get the idea to strike without a formal organizer.

I figure that if I get enough of these messages from life, (movies, books, newspapers) I will eventually understand what a community organizer does. At this point I see the community organizer as one who helps the people of a specific community to help themselves.

Sad Stories

It has been too long since I last posted. I am determined to write something interesting today, at least interesting to me. I have so many subjects to write about that now I am confused about which to select. The China balloon, or the last book I read about human trafficking, or about Joe Biden’s lame State of the Union address, the earthquake in Turkey, or my last Lions meeting.

The one excitement within our Lions club is that we are re-starting our vision screening program for kids. We first began in 2016 and were gaining momentum when COVID-19 hit and we had to stop. Up to that fatal time, we had screened 2100 kids ages 2-5 and found 75 that needed a visit to an eye doctor. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack, but the goal is to find the needles. Lions believe that all kids should have the same starting point in school. If one or more kids have vision problems they will be at a disadvantage among their peers. To level the playing field it is our goal to find the disadvantaged and to urge them to get help. Thankfully, most of them do. There are some parents who will rush to the eye doctor after getting our results, and then there are others who are skeptical, and choose to wait for the child to grow out of the problem. We even learned about an Optometrist who sent a child home declaring that he was too young and that his eyes were still changing. We can only do so much.

Lions KidSight Vision Screening

The latest book I read is “The Great Escape, A True Story of Forced Labor and Immigrant Dreams in America,” by Saket Soni. All I will say is that this story made me ashamed that I am an American. The treatment that was extended to these men from India was unbelievably atrocious. All they wanted was to use their skills as welders. The agents who recruited them used the lure of getting a Green Card. The Green Card is the ticket to migrate into the country. I know it doesn’t come easy nor quickly, nor cheaply. I have been working with US Immigration to get a green card for Lovely. To date it has been two years, a bushel basket full of money, and too many forms all of which end with one’s signature and fine print that says lying on these forms is a federal offense punishable with jail. Yet these recruiters dangled the carrot of the Green Card in front of hundreds of welders to get them to come to the USA. The charge for this service was twenty thousand US dollars. The author tells of the personal hardships they went through to get that much money together. Most times the family sold their home to sponsor a son. Other families put the condition of marriage on the son before they would allow him to go.

Human Trafficking

The saddest thing about this scam was that the perpetrators didn’t give a damn about the workers. They lived in primitive cramped barracks, fed rotten food, worked long hours without breaks and were not allowed to leave the guarded compound in which they were trapped. An even sadder story began when the men, led by a Community Organizer, escaped the compound as a group to protest their enslavement, and the US Government treated them just as badly. Once I began reading this story, I could not put the book down. I had to know the final outcome.

I rushed home from the Lions Board meeting just so I could hear President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. He didn’t disappoint me he merely blamed all problems of the Republicans and promised to spend trillions of dollars more on nothing projects. I have listened to politicians proclaim that money is needed for rebuilding our infrastructure, and then the money is spent but not a single road or bridge is rebuilt. Same-old, same-old bullshit is fed to the masses who eat the lines with relish.

I thought for sure President Joe would take a shot at the balloon to make some points with the voters, but he procrastinated long enough to let the spyloon pass over the entire country before he shot it down. The reason he gave for not doing it while it passed over Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas was that the debris would be harmful to us on the ground. Evidently none of our military advisors or the president have ever been to that part of the country before or they would know that it is the safest place for debris to fall because the populations of those states is near zero. Instead he waited until the balloon got pictures of every military base in states all across the continent. I guess these same people who never saw these states don’t believe that the pictures could be downloaded to China before he finally wasted a missile on it.

The Real Reason Joe Shot Down the Chi-balloon

Finally, the Lions Clubs International Foundation is asking the one hundred and fifty million Lions from all over the world to send money to their disaster relief fund to help the people of Turkey and Syria who have been killed in and displaced by the massive earthquake that collapsed their cities. That is even sadder than the story about the hundreds of welders from India who were enslaved within the one country in the world that believes in freedom and liberty.

Turkey, a Five Story Pile of Rubble

The Grapes of Wrath-2023

There aren’t too many books that I have re-read in my lifetime, but today I finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. By far he is my favorite author. He makes me see the characters, and the places he writes about with amazing clarity. His writing style is what made me read this book a second time. It has probably been forty years in between, but I still remember the story, and yet I enjoyed it more this time than I did the first. I doubly enjoyed his descriptions of the time and the sadness of the tale.

The Grapes of Wrath has so many messages such as: the effect of weather forcing a mass migration, the desperation of poor people, the strength of family, the will to live, the shame of accepting government help in extreme poverty, the effect of starvation on health, the rejection by the communities that were affected by the influx. The list goes on. Steinbeck tells the history of the era in great detail. He was born in an agricultural valley in central California and most likely witnessed the people streaming into the region looking for work. He understood the attitudes of agricultural workers forming unions, and the land owners fighting to protect their properties. It is a scary time and a sad time because the differences between the people could be likened to the differences between North and South in the Civil War. In this case the land owners against those who don’t own land.

Most of the migrants came from Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Most were share croppers. They didn’t own land but rented the land and the rent payment was a share of the crop they produced. When the global warming of the nineteen thirties hit the plains and water dried up the land turned to dust. The winds blew the dust away from the farms and destroyed them. Crops were lost, lives went bankrupt. Bankers foreclosed on the sharecroppers and the landowners sold to corporate farms. The tiny farms of twenty and forty acres that once provided sustenance for families became massive company farms tilled by modern tractors on thousands of acres to provide a return on investment. People be damned, it was up to them to move on, and to provide for themselves. Had the migration moved slower, and the people who left to find jobs did so in a trickle things might have been different. The combination of weather killing crops and corporations buying the land to make money fast caused the migration to happen rather suddenly. It is estimated that two hundred and fifty thousand people were displaced from their farms in one summer, and the majority moved to California to find jobs as pickers. They moved in old junky cars and trucks bought from charlatan dealers who raided junk yards for inventory and sold the vehicles to desperate people who needed to find work.

The current situation in the United States is not much different, except the migrants aren’t coming across the state line, but across the border from starving Central America, or they are refugees displaced by war. They come by the thousands because they have seen the promise of the United States. What hasn’t changed much is our attitude toward the intruders. In modern America, those coming in are not coming in junky jalopies that barely run, they walk in, and our government uses buses or airplanes to transport them all across the country to unsuspecting cities where they are let loose to fend for themselves. In some cases the receiving city puts them into unoccupied hotels, until more suitable housing can be found.

This book was first published in 1939 and the story closely relates to the current conditions in the USA. Does this mean that we have not solved a single worldwide social problem since then? Why are we paying all the exorbitant taxes? Where does the money go? One place it goes is to fuel the salaries of all the degreed people working for all the bureaucracies invented to deal with social problems like homelessness, starvation, etc.. Then there are those people who work diligently to expand those services. I often wonder how many staff people we employ to handle a single poor person.


In the new emigration the people’s wants are similar to those of the thirties. Most seek only employment so they can better themselves. They aren’t really coming here to go on welfare, they want to make their own way by working. The people who do go on welfare are those who are born here, and are too lazy to take the low paying jobs that immigrants are willing to do. What the impact will be on the USA is that the influx of immigrants will lower the standard of living for everyone.

I didn’t expect this book report to turn into my ranting about society and the ills of big government, but it did, and I am sorry for that, but now that it is in type I must post my thoughts and opinions.

Lighter than Air

Every year I set a goal to read one book a week. I missed the goal in 2022 by one book. Convinced that this year will be different I am reading voraciously. The latest novel is by author Ariel Lawhon and titled “Flight of Dreams.” Although it is fiction it has a historical theme. The fiction aspect contains two separate love stories, a mystery, and much social dialog. The history part comes from the fact that the entire story takes place aboard the last flight of the Hindenburg. Only a few references are made about these huge, lighter than air, ships being used in World War 1, in moving mail, and passengers.

The early part of the story reminded me of a cross country train trip I took on a train. Descriptions of the life in a restricted environment, and the ensuing boredom mixing with the excitement of a adventurous journey stirred my recollections. The author used a tactic that made the reading easier for me. She broke the story up by writing from the point of view of the characters. She begins new segments about a character with the title of the character, such as Cabin Boy, Navigator, Stewardess, Chef, Journalist, American, etc. Since I have trouble remembering characters in any story I read, this tactic helped me establish a connection sooner, and it was more burned into my brain.

The flight from Germany to New Jersey lasted three days and eight hours. This gave the author lots of time to tell the story of over ninety passengers and crew. Of course, she concentrated the narrative on only a select few passengers in order to get the reader into the story. Throughout the tale we know all along how this story ends, the Hindenburg blows up as it is landing. The author periodically gives us a check-point by reminding us how many hours and minutes remain until the “explosion.” What this did for me was to establish a giant curiosity about how the story ends. Would my favorite character be one of those who perish? Would the love interests perish together? Would the American accomplish his goal to revenge his brother’s death in WW I?

I felt that Ariel Lawhon did an amazing job of story telling by turning her story from a slow beginning into a frantically paced thriller in the final pages. Her story left me sad, and happy as I learned which characters survived, and which perished. I learned just enough history in this read to make me want to know more about this form of airship travel.