Sarah Kendzior has been blogging, writing, and working as a journalist since the early 2010s. Her book, The View from Flyover Country, gained prominence after the 2016 election because of her insightful tweets about the rise of the 45th President. Clearly, I’m just getting around to reading it, three years later.
The essays in the book reflect Kendzior’s perspectives and the issues she cares about. One element she discusses regularly is how living in the Midwest, specifically St. Louis, colors her experience. Having lived in St. Louis for ten years (decades ago), I could relate. She’s certainly not a D.C. policy wonk or a member of the coastal elite. And I think that’s an advantage here.
Kendzior divides her essays into several topic areas, including her Midwest experience, the “post-employment” economy, race, religion, higher education, media, and some international topics. The essays are wide-ranging in one sense and repetitive in another. Within each topic group, Kendzior hammers home certain points repeatedly. She’s passionate about what concerns her. I’m okay with that, especially because my brain retains repeated points more accurately.
Essays I Liked
Her essays affected me. Here are just a few I particularly appreciated.
Her essay, “The Wrong Kind of Caucasian,” discusses the Boston Marathon bombing and and its Chechen Muslim perpetrators. This angle added to what I learned from Andre McCabe’s book, The Threat.
In “Meritocracy for Sale,” I learned about the prevalence of unpaid internships and how they’re necessary for getting ahead in some careers. Kendzior explains that only people wealthy enough to self-finance 6 months (or more) in an extremely costly city can follow this career path. The exclusionary nature of these internships concerns me.
One of my favorite essays was “In Defense of Complaining.” Kendzior uses it to lambast the positive thinking movement, which I heartily applaud. We need to stop punishing people for speaking their truth, even when they are struggling. As she puts it,
“Telling people not to complain is an act of power, a way of asserting that one’s position is more important than another one’s pain. People who say “stop complaining” always have the right to stop listening. But those who complain have often been denied the right to speak.” (ebook, p. 224)
I appreciated these essays, and found the book to be a relatively easy listen in terms of writing style. Kendzior is a talented writer willing to dive deep into the issues she cares about. I certainly care about these issues, whether I agree completely with her perspective or not.
Other recent reviewers say the essays are dated, and so they are. But the sad part is what’s NOT dated. Our economy is still a hot mess, and only getting messier. It’s harder than ever to make ends meet, especially for groups the 1% tries to marginalize. Higher education costs haven’t improved, and the topic is hot for 2020 Presidential candidates. Kendzior wisely presents the faculty perspective, in addition to the student side. And media still plays a huge part in our lives, while we question its credibility more than ever. We also have moved deeper, more overtly into racist behavior so her essays there retain critical value. So, yes they’re dated but the concepts continue to be absolutely relevant.
As usual, I wish a professional narrated this book, rather than the author. Her delivery was fairly wooden and sounded like a student reading in class, rather than the passionate professional she is.
I follow Kendzior on Twitter, and now I’ll try her podcast also. It’s called Gaslit Nation, which I think is a brilliant title.
I recommend A View From Flyover Country if you like to think about today’s issues from a unique perspective.