Sheila M. Trask

As a rural northerner, I was skeptical heading into Christopher Ingraham’s memoir of moving his family from Ellicott City, Maryland, to Red Lake Falls, Minnesota. I could see why he did it—Ingraham, his wife and their twin toddlers lived in a 952-square-foot row house, the only place they could afford and still get Ingraham to his job at The Washington Post each day, a commute that took 90 minutes if he was very, very lucky. Who wouldn’t want to trade that in for acres of open land, a home-based office and ridiculously friendly neighbors? Still, D.C. to Minnesota? 

Ingraham wasn’t a true believer either when he first heard of Red Lake Falls. As a data reporter for the Post, he’d discovered that Red Lake County was rated the ugliest county among some 3,000 counties surveyed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He wrote his headline—“The absolute worst place to live in America is (drumroll please) . . . Red Lake County, Minnesota”—and the responses poured in, many from angry but unfailingly polite residents of the maligned county. It just wasn’t true, they said. He should come see for himself, they said. So he did.

If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now chronicles what Ingraham found—not only the charming parts, like running along the frozen river with sled dogs and beating the locals at ice fishing, but also the difficulties, such as when the family needed to consult an autism specialist about one of their sons. In Maryland, the nearest E.R. or urgent care facility was a mere three miles from their front door; in Red Lake Falls, it was 16 miles away. 

Even through the challenges, Ingraham mostly writes fondly of his new home, while poking gentle fun at his citified self as he settles in to what turns out to be the absolute best place to live in America, for his family.

As a rural northerner, I was skeptical heading into Christopher Ingraham’s memoir of moving his family from Ellicott City, Maryland, to Red Lake Falls, Minnesota. I could see why he did it—Ingraham, his wife and their twin toddlers lived in a 952-square-foot row house, the only place they could afford and still get Ingraham to […]

With a voice that is at once as innocent as a young child’s should be and yet as preternaturally mature as children from dysfunctional homes often have to be in order to survive, Meredith May invites us into the inexplicable yet strangely hopeful world of her California childhood in this moving memoir.

When a 5-year-old Meredith gets on a plane with her mother and brother, leaving her father at the airport, readers are just as perplexed as she is. When they arrive at her grandparents’ home and her mother goes straight to the bedroom—where she stays for days, weeks, months, even years—we don’t know why. Neither does young Meredith. All she knows for sure is that her grandfather, a beekeeper, is there to take her hand and immerse her in the astonishing world of the honeybee. Under his gentle tutelage, she learns about the complex family dynamics of the hive, the role of the queen and what happens to a bee colony when everything goes wrong.

May captures the flavor of her 1970s childhood, a time when a brother and sister could play all day unsupervised, hide away in the high branches of trees and plot to get into Grampa’s “honey bus,” a den of creation they are deemed too young to enter for many years. Eventually, though, Meredith is ready for the heat, hard work and danger of processing honey in the bus, much as she matures into processing the many unanswered questions of her childhood.

While May answers some of those questions—she finds a way to explain her mother’s narcissistic personality, for instance—much remains a mystery. To May’s credit, she doesn’t try to tie up all the loose ends but is determined, rather, to tell the story as it happened. It’s satisfying to let this book be her “bee dance,” in which she tells the tale of where she’s been and what she’s seen to us, her human hive.

With a voice that is at once as innocent as a young child’s should be and yet as preternaturally mature as children from dysfunctional homes often have to be in order to survive, Meredith May invites us into the inexplicable yet strangely hopeful world of her California childhood in this moving memoir.

People love personality tests, and they tend to believe the results, even if the tests are seldom reliable or even backed up by any scientific research. If you know your Myers-Briggs type—are you an ENFJ, or maybe an ISTP?—you know the appeal. In this fascinating survey of the popular Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) and its passionate originators Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, Merve Emre delves deeply into these women’s personalities and those of the many others who spread their ideas far and wide over the course of nearly a century.

Relying on meticulous research, Emre reveals the vulnerable mindset of young housewife Briggs when she happened upon Carl Jung’s psychological theories in the 1920s. Inspired by Jung’s theories—but with no real psychological credentials and a background in fiction writing—Briggs and her daughter obsessively attempted to sort everyone in their lives into categories using a multiple-choice questionnaire they created.

It was truly an obsession, Emre shows, and one that didn’t stop with the Myers-Briggs family. On the contrary, the Myers-Briggs type theory was used to analyze everything from the dire economic situation of the 1930s to Hilter’s personality. It informed the first employment tests, and it may have influenced the beginning of the arms race in the 1950s. Indeed, type theory has never gone out of fashion and is still incredibly popular today, fueling a multibillion-dollar industry. Emre engagingly follows all of these paths to illustrate the deep and broad impact one test has had on people the world over.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

People love personality tests, and they tend to believe the results, even if the tests are seldom reliable or even backed up by any scientific research. If you know your Myers-Briggs type—are you an ENFJ, or maybe an ISTP?—you know the appeal. In this fascinating survey of the popular Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) and its passionate originators Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, Merve Emre delves deeply into these women’s personalities and those of the many others who spread their ideas far and wide over the course of nearly a century.

The road trip. The Wright Brothers. What could be more American?

How about putting the two together?

Husband-and-wife team James Fallows and Deborah Fallows did just that, flying their small, single-engine propeller plane back and forth and up and down the United States over five years and 100,000 miles, a journey they document in Our Towns. When the couple set out in 2012, they expected to find problems and poverty, and they did. But as they continued to set down in a wide variety of cities, towns and backyards, they were also struck by the resilient spirits of the people.

The chronological approach to this narrative can be frustrating at first—readers may wish the authors had reported on the towns by topic or by geography, rather than traveling from South Dakota to Maine in the first year, then starting over in South Carolina the next. In the end, though, being able to make discoveries with the Fallows as they go from place to place is part of the book’s charm. On any given page, you might find yourself wandering the halls of an innovative community college in Mississippi or sharing a beer with millennials at a bar in San Bernardino, California. In between stops, the Fallows’ bird’s-eye view reveals the visual contours of the country, from street grids to agricultural feedlots to collections of backyard swimming pools.

Co-authoring a travel memoir can be tricky, but the Fallows team pulls it off like the professionals they are. James has been a national correspondent for The Atlantic for over 30 years, and Deborah is the author of Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language. In alternating sections, each writer demonstrates certain strengths—Deborah, with her eye for local color, will make you smell the potluck Easter banquet they happen on in Georgia, while James will show you around the remains of the Mack Trucks plant in Allenstown, Pennsylvania. Together, they paint a rich picture of a complex country in this finely detailed love letter to America.

The road trip. The Wright Brothers. What could be more American? How about putting the two together?

We all know what it takes to be healthy—or at least we think we do. The advice comes at us from all directions: Crush your workout! Learn to meditate! Eat vegan!

In her latest investigation, Natural Causes, the sharp-tongued Barbara Ehrenreich, whose bestselling Nickel and Dimed scrutinized the inner workings of the American economy, approaches the proclamations of the health-and-wellness culture with a wary eye. Ehrenreich examines the cellular activity in the human body in order to discover if everything we do to control our health is really worth doing.

Ehrenreich has the science chops to do a serious study—a Ph.D. in cellular immunology comes in handy when exploring the world of macrophages and neutrophils. What she finds is surprising. Our immune cells, it turns out, are not always the good guys defending the body against invaders. Sometimes, they attack or help the attackers (like cancer) spread their influence.

With a scientist’s keen eye, Ehrenreich precisely explains the intricacies of the immune system. She’s equally at home in other disciplines, too, moving seamlessly from biology and philosophy to history and poetry. Her book is richly layered with evidence, stories and quotations from all of these disciplines and sprinkled with barbed humor. Ehrenreich lets nobody off the hook, skewering Silicon Valley meditators and misogynist obstetricians with equal vigor.

It’s impossible to read this book without questioning the popular wisdom about the body and its upkeep. At the very least, you’ll be able to make better decisions about how to work out, whether to have that mammogram and when to just order the steak.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

We all know what it takes to be healthy—or at least we think we do. The advice comes at us from all directions: Crush your workout! Learn to meditate! Eat vegan!

Norwich, Vermont, population circa 3,000, has sent contestants to the Olympics almost every year since 1984, cheering on three gold medalists in the Winter Olympics in the same span of years that the entire country of Spain has produced two. When New York Times writer Karen Crouse discovered this gem of a New England town, she had to ask: How do they do it?

In Norwich, Crouse captures the soul of a town with a 110-year-old general store that pretty well lives up to its motto: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” She talks to Olympians like moguls champion Hannah Kearney, middle-distance runner Andrew Wheating and snowboarder Kevin Pearce, but surprisingly few of the conversations are about winning or losing; they’re always about the people who made a difference in these Olympians lives.

In the straightforward style of the sportswriter she is, Crouse weaves town history and sports statistics together with heartfelt conversations with the parents and coaches who support all of the community’s children, not just the best of the best. Readers might expect to hear about highly competitive “tiger” moms and dads with money to burn, but that’s not what Crouse finds. Instead, she uncovers a much more laid-back philosophy: Let kids try a bunch of stuff, celebrate with them when they find activities they enjoy, and love them no matter the outcome. Because “you’re never going to make biscuits out of them kittens,” as one old-timer says. Parents in Norwich are not set on molding their children into what they want them to be, but letting them be everything they can be.

By the time readers finish Crouse’s account, they may shift from wondering how Norwich does it to asking why everybody doesn’t do it this way.

Norwich, Vermont, population 3,000, has sent contestants to the Olympics almost every year since 1984, cheering on three gold medalists in the Winter Olympics in the same span of years that the entire country of Spain has produced two. When New York Times writer Karen Crouse discovered this gem of a New England town, she had to ask: How do they do it?

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