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Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation (2017)

by John Freeman (Editor)

Other authors: Julia Alvarez (Contributor), Eula Biss (Contributor), Sandra Cisneros (Contributor), Edwidge Danticat (Contributor), R S Deeren (Contributor)31 more, Natalie Diaz (Contributor), Annie Dillard (Contributor), Anthony Doerr (Contributor), Timothy Egan (Contributor), Patricia Engel (Contributor), Ru Freeman (Contributor), Roxanne Gay (Contributor), Dagoberto Gilb (Contributor), Juan Felipe Herrera (Contributor), Lawrence Joseph (Contributor), Rickey Laurentiis (Contributor), Kiese Laymon (Contributor), Manuel Muñoz (Contributor), Nami Mun (Contributor), Joyce Carol Oates (Contributor), Chris Offutt (Contributor), Ann Patchett (Contributor), Kirstin Valdez Quade (Contributor), Jess Ruliffson (Contributor), Karen Russell (Contributor), Richard Russo (Contributor), Sarah Smarsh (Contributor), Danez Smith (Contributor), Rebecca Solnit (Contributor), Whitney Terrell (Contributor), Héctor Tobar (Contributor), Claire Vaye Watkins (Contributor), Brad Watson (Contributor), Larry Watson (Contributor), Joy Williams (Contributor), Kevin Young (Contributor)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1354174,781 (3.71)9
"In Tales of Two Americas, some of the literary world's most exciting writers look beyond numbers and wages to convey what it feels like to live in this divided nation. Their extraordinarily powerful stories, essays, and poems demonstrate how boundaries break down when experiences are shared, and that in sharing our stories we can help to alleviate a suffering that touches so many people."--Page 4 of cover.… (more)

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Showing 4 of 4
There are a few really great essays in here, but I would say no more than 20%. I was very looking forward to reading this, but found I slugged through most of the content. I simply did not find most of the writing engaging. ( )
  theosakakoneko | Feb 15, 2020 |
This may be THE book to understand the current moment. So many great voices trying to capture a corner of the world. Fantastic effort. ( )
  kcshankd | May 3, 2018 |
"America is broken. You don't need a fistful of statistics to know this. You just need eyes and ears and stories."

This book provides the stories--essays, short stories, poems, and personal anecdotes--which as the editor writes, "demolish the myth of Horatio Alger and replace it with the reality of what it feels like to try to keep a foothold in America today."

This is a diverse collection by many of today's best writers. Some of the ones that stood out to me include:

--"Death by Gentrification" by Rebecca Solnit, in which she relates the true story behind the headlines about a Hispanic teenager who was shot and killed by the police in his own neighborhood. The police were called by one of the "new" residents of this gentrifying San Francisco neighborhood, people who were afraid of other people who did not look like them. The police shot before talking.

"Dosas" by Edwidge Danticat--a short story about immigrants from one of the places DJT considers a shithole, Haiti.

"Outside" by Kiese Layman--a personal essay starkly laying out the different treatments given for minor drug crimes committed by the privileged students at an elite college and the treatment given a young janitorial employee at the same college who committed a similar crime.

"White Debt" by Eula Bliss, a personal essay on white privilege--being comfortably with what one has, but uncomfortable with how one came to have it--"one of the conundrums of whiteness."

"Leander" by Joyce Carol Oates--a short story about a comfortable suburban matron who wants to do something to help a Black Live Matter-like group, but finds herself very uncomfortable attending one of their meetings.

"We Share the Rain, and Not Much Else" by Timothy Egan--an essay about how Seattle has changed from its gritty pre-Microsoft/pre-Amazon past when a blue-collar worker could lead a comfortable life.

"To The Man Asleep in Our Driveway Who Might Be Named Phil" by Anthony Doerr--a personal essay about the dilemma of coming home to your comfortable suburban home to find a homeless man sleeping in your driveway.

"Looking for a Home" by Karen Russell--a personal essay about living above a homeless shelter.

"Happy" by Brad Watson--an essay about growing up in a white family in Mississippi with a black maid. More honest than The Help.

These were the ones that spoke to me most, but there are many other worthy pieces by other authors, including Sandra Cisneros, Ann Patchett, Richard Russo, Roxanne Gay, Julia Alvarez, Ru Freeman, Annie Dillard, and lots of other authors.

Highly recommended.

4 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Jan 22, 2018 |
Promoted in Women & Children First bookstore e-mail newsletter, September 2017

From "Death by Gentrification" by Rebecca Solnit:
"I shouldn't have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day." -San Francisco resident Justin Keller
"The pain and fear that we are not safe from police in our communities will not go away until there is personal accountability by those who harm us." -Adriana Camarena, lawyer

From "i'm sick of pretending to give a shit about what whypeepo think" by Danez Smith
...what's the purpose of being black if you have to spend
it trying to prove all the ways your [sic] not? i'm done with race
hahahaha could you imagine if it was what [sic] easy? to just say
i'm done & all the scars turn into ravens...

From "Notes of a Native Daughter" by Sandra Cisneros
I said to me, If you stick around, you're everybody's but your own.
Chicago, how do I explain? For a home to be a home, you have to feel that you belong.

From "American Work" by Richard Russo
Feeling angry, undervalued, and ignored, [Trump voters] don't seem to grasp that these are not new feelings. They're just new to them. American blacks and Latinos and LGBT folks have been feeling the same way for a long time.

From "Mobility" by Julia Alvarez
Every once in a while, another reality breaks into the gated communities of what turn out to be our default entitlements as we complain vehemently when they are withheld.

Like many long-term couples we tend to fall into good cop-bad cop routines, one person's nasty mood triggering the better angels of the other's nature.

From "Youth From Every Quarter" by Kirstin Valdez Quade
...it's not enough for elite institutions to accept students from racially, ethnically, and economically diverse backgrounds if those students are then told in a thousand ways - ways tiny and large, oblique and direct - that they are there only at the whim of the powers that be, that they haven't paid for the privilege to err or falter, that, at root, they don't belong.

From "White Debt" by Eula Biss
When the laws that bind a community apply differently to different members of the community, Bettina Bergo and Tracey Nicholls observe in their collection, I Don't See Color, then privilege "undermines the solidarity of the community." And that, in turn, undermines us all.

What my son was expressing - that he wants the comfort of what he has but that he is uncomfortable with how he came to have it - is one of the conundrums of whiteness.

Whiteness is not a kinship or a culture....What binds us is that we share a system of social advantages that can be traced back to the advent of slavery in the colonies that became the United States....Whiteness is not who you are. Which is why it is entirely possible to despise whiteness without disliking yourself.

For me, whiteness is not an identity but a moral problem.

From "We Share the Rain, and Not Much Else" by Timothy Egan

If college is still the best elevator to the middle class, crippling debt is the price of the ride upward.

From "To the Man Asleep in Our Driveway" by Anthony Doerr

Once, at my wife's office, they did a team-building exercise where facilitators stood everybody hip to hip along a long. If you were read to as a child, they said, take a step forward. If you had health insurance as a child, take a step forward. If your parents took you to art galleries or plays as a child...If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school...If your family owned the house where you grew up....If English was your first language...If you never had to skip a meal...If you were able to complete college...
You know who gets to decide who's right and who's wrong? The people who take the most steps forward.

From "Looking for a Home" by Karen Russell
City dwellers everywhere have likely played a version of this grim midnight game, Does That Screaming Require My Intervention?

"Us" versus "them," that binary view, fails to recognize that sickness and health and solvency and bankruptcy are of course porous states; that sanity and insanity exist on a continuum; and that every house standing is a house of cards, be it a brick-and-mortar duplex or a human body. Some people have far more resources to rebuild with when disaster strikes. But nobody is indestructible.

Tell me, how do you celebrate a homecoming when you know that so many people are being left on the other side of the moat?

--> The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier It's a book about the open secret of suffering.

It's getting more expensive to be poor everywhere. According to a recent Pew report, the poorest third of Americans now spend about 50 percent more on all their housing costs than they did in 1996.

[Rich] Rodgers contrasted the outpouring of emotion and aid that follows a natural disaster to people's often benumbed, resigned, apathetic response to our homeless.

From "Hurray for Losers" by Dagoberto Gilb
In these days, these last decades especially, it's as if privilege is taken for granted by those who live inside it, who don't know a world that is not it....Lately, these days, in these years, privilege isn't simply accepted, it's entrenched and it is assumed it is true, right.

From "The Worthless Servant" by Ann Patchett
I was struck by how often the lessons we learn when we're young, the things we could never imagine needing, make it possible to meet what life will ask of us later.

"All you have to do is give a little bit of understanding to the possibility that life might not have been fair."
The trouble with good fortune is that people tend to equate it with personal goodness, so that if things are going well for us and less well for others, we thing they must have done something to have brought it on themselves. ( )
  JennyArch | Sep 26, 2017 |
Showing 4 of 4
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Freeman, JohnEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alvarez, JuliaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Biss, EulaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cisneros, SandraContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Danticat, EdwidgeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Deeren, R SContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Diaz, NatalieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dillard, AnnieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Doerr, AnthonyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Egan, TimothyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Engel, PatriciaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Freeman, RuContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gay, RoxanneContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gilb, DagobertoContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Herrera, Juan FelipeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Joseph, LawrenceContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Laurentiis,RickeyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Laymon, KieseContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Muñoz, ManuelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mun, NamiContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Oates, Joyce CarolContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Offutt, ChrisContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Patchett, AnnContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Quade, Kirstin ValdezContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ruliffson, JessContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Russell, KarenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Russo, RichardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smarsh, SarahContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith, DanezContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Solnit, RebeccaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Terrell, WhitneyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tobar, HéctorContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Watkins, Claire VayeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Watson, BradContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Watson, LarryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Williams, JoyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Young, KevinContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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"In Tales of Two Americas, some of the literary world's most exciting writers look beyond numbers and wages to convey what it feels like to live in this divided nation. Their extraordinarily powerful stories, essays, and poems demonstrate how boundaries break down when experiences are shared, and that in sharing our stories we can help to alleviate a suffering that touches so many people."--Page 4 of cover.

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Book description
Thirty-six major contemporary writers examine life in a deeply divided America--including Anthony Doerr, Ann Patchett, Roxane Gay, Rebecca Solnit, Hector Tobar, Joyce Carol Oates, Edwidge Danticat, Richard Russo, Eula Bliss, Karen Russell, and many more.

America is broken. You don't need a fistful of statistics to know this. Visit any city, and evidence of our shattered social compact will present itself. From Appalachia to the Rust Belt and down to rural Texas, the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest stretches to unimaginable chasms. Whether the cause of this inequality is systemic injustice, the entrenchment of racism in our culture, the long war on drugs, or immigration policies, it endangers not only the American Dream but our very lives.
In Tales of Two Americas, some of the literary world's most exciting writers look beyond numbers and wages to convey what it feels like to live in this divided nation. Their extraordinarily powerful stories, essays, and poems demonstrate how boundaries break down when experiences are shared, and that in sharing our stories we can help to alleviate a suffering that touches so many people. [Amazon]
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