‘TRIBE: On Homecoming and Belonging’

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  • Unknown-4TRIBE by Sebastian Junger (Twelve, Hachette Book Group, 2016)
  • In 40 words or less: An outgrowth of a June 2015 article on soldiers’ PTSD long after leaving the battlefield, Junger posits what is it about modern society that has created this problem. Using recognized research and his observations, Junger provides food for thought.
  • Genre: Nonfiction/Anthropology
  • Time: 300 plus years of communities
  • Read this for an interesting take on the how individualism and independence may leave our society vulnerable to depression, PTSD and other problems.

Sebastian Junger is a familiar name to many for his book The Perfect Storm about the New England fisherman caught as three weather fronts came together in 1991. His writing is fiercely analytical, bringing together the individual, societal and (in that case) climatological factors that marked that tragedy.

Junger spent time embedded with troops in Afghanistan. As a journalist, filmmaker, and long form author, he was struck by the strong bonding of military units regardless of the ethnic, racial, intellectual and social differences that might divide in other environments. Junger saw wounded soldiers desperate to return to their units rather than to be sent home.  Many of the same strong and courageous individuals had severe and long-lasting difficulties reintegrating upon returning home. TRIBE is his effort to understand why.

This brief book, less than 140 pages, refers to dozens of psychological, sociological and anthropological studies, business and newspaper articles on the evolution of tribal and group behavior. The primary exemplars are tribes, going back to ancient times through early America, who’s communities were completely interdependent with well-defined communal roles. His contention is the superiority of this model is reinforced by the resistance of captured American settlers to return to their communities, often fleeing to return to those who had been their captors.

Junger asserts that that interdependence is seen in military units and that the loss of it causes/exacerbates reintegration difficulties. On the civilian side, he suggests that this lack of fundamental purposefulness contributes to some instances of depression, abuse of medical insurance and other behaviors.  As evidence, he shares data that suggests catastrophes such as 9/11 resulted in reductions in suicide and symptoms of depression. Rather than turning inward, people reached out to help others both selflessly and to fulfill a need to contribute to making society whole. In my opinion, his assessment might also be worth looking at in terms of gang members and those who have been incarcerated.

This is not an academic treatise nor does he proport to be a scholar.  Having said that, I’d recommend it to those who study societal dynamics, social workers, and particularly those involved in the serious problem of appropriately training our military and reintegrating them into civilian service. Even if he isn’t spot on, his work provides a starting point for discussion.

 

My to-be-read list is summer ready!

Ahhhh! Even if your student days are far in the rearview mirror, somehow summer has its own unique rhythm. Now’s the time to change your reading horizons in all sorts of ways. Grab a book and head to a park bench at lunchtime – your desk can manage without you. Try out an audiobook for that road trip. Negotiating a title with your fellow passengers may introduce you to an author or genre you’d never have selected on your own.

For me, summer is the time to queue up books that take me to another place and imgres-2time. Last summer, two particular titles really fit the bill. The Truth According to Us, Annie Barrows’ novel of small-town West Virginia in the summer of 1938, just out in paperback, has an enticing combination of family drama, labor unrest and explication of the New Deal program that brought writers to small communities across the country to preserve their histories.

In The Oregon Trail, Rinker Buck brings the reader along as he and his brother follow the trail from imgres-3Missouri to Oregon using equipment and tools of 150 years ago. Buck, a seasoned journalist in the midst of a personal crisis, decides this is just the change he needs. As a child, he and his siblings were taken on unusual journeys by their father, an accomplished, loving but difficult man. Needing another skilled horseman for the trip, Buck invited his brother who was dealing with physical and emotional problems of his own. Not particularly close since childhood, the extraordinary physical challenge of the undertaking tested and strengthened their relationship.

Page after page, the reader joins them on the trail, often within spitting distance of 18-wheelers. Along the way they take meals and spend the night with locals in small towns across the route; on farms, in dying communities set aside after an interstate usurped their role as staging point or provisioners. They meet old-fashioned craftspeople that keep their rig going when repairs are beyond their skill. Weather, rough terrain, exhaustion, and injuries leave them minutes from abandoning the quest. It was a joy to accompany them from the air-conditioned comfort of my home!

So what’s on the list for this summer? First up, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, ChrisUnknown-5 Cleave’s latest about Europe in 1939. Mary North takes on the task of teaching students that were not accepted in homes in the countryside as most children were sent for safety from London. Tom, charged with supervising the school, and Alistair, Tom’s best friend now serving as a military officer, both fall for Mary.

On a more serious note, Tribe, Sebastian Junger’s Unknown-4assessment of the damage we have brought on ourselves by loosening the communal bonds of society. He contends that combat veterans overcome their fears and insist on returning to their units after injuries because of the tribal ties they create.  Junger suggests it is the breaking of these bonds that fuels PTSD.

Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, 2012 National Book Unknown-2Award winner, is one of the finest novels I have ever read. Her latest, La Rose, is another family-centered novel of contemporary Native American life with a storyline drawn from tragedy.  Erdrich brings a unique perspective to the complexity of the tribal and state justice systems. Snagging a copy of La Rose at the library was a real coup!

Another Louise is near the top of my TBR pile. Louise Penny has created the  magical hamlet of Three Pines in Quebec. Unknown-3With an assortment of quirky locals, poor internet and cell coverage, a cafe, bookstore, and a B and B, it is the perfect retreat except for the occasional murder. Chief Inspector Gamache is the warm, intuitive yet analytical detective who uncovers the culprits and the underlying stories. Through the course of the Three Pines series, his wife and his second (now his son-in-law as well) add a comfortable and familial tenor to the stories.

Now that I’ve shared the top of my pile, I hope you’ll do the same. Please go to the bottom of this post (on the website) and click on COMMENTS so that I (and others) can see what you are reading.  I’ll keep sharing if you will!

Authors on the importance of writing and the worlds they create – Book Expo Part 2

After a day of travel and 5 miles on the conference floor, it took some energy to arrive back at McCormick Place in time for the 8 am Adult Book & Author Breakfast. I am so glad I did.

One lesson learned – humor that may fly at 8 pm with a glass of wine can fall flat at 8 am when the caffeine has yet to do its job.  Faith Salie,  a TV and radio journalist, and panelist on “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”, hosted the event and spoke first about her humorous memoir Approval Junkie. Her opening monolog was a mix of  intentionally bad publishing jokes and one-liners about her pursuit of a baby-daddy as she reached forty. When she finally segued to the importance of reading and writing throughout her life, Salie set the tone for the serious content to follow.

Colson Whitehead spoke next about The Underground Railroad, his upcoming novel that imagines this path to freedom as a physical railway traversing the country. It’s a book he’s been imagining for years and finally put to paper.  He described his journey, from a lowly staffer at The Village Voice more than two decades ago. And he told of how he “giggle-tested” the story line to see if the project was worth pursuing. In The Underground Railroad Whitehead confronts the issues and danger of that time in a story that may remind readers of Swift’s writings. I can’t wait to read my copy.

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I’ve been a huge Louise Penny fan for years. Her books are one of my go-to choices when I need to refresh my reading palate. A Great Reckoning is Penny’s latest mystery about the small village of Three Pines and Armand Gamache. She spoke about her childhood and the magic of books, showing her that anything was possible and that bravery, strength, and love could be found within. She shared that Gamache has been modeled on her husband, the former head of hematology at Montreal’s Children’s Hospital, a very caring man who had to see patients and their parents under the worst of circumstances. And then she told that over the last three years the husband she has known for decades has suffered from severe dementia, unable to walk, speak or recognize her. Each day begins with her reminding him he is strong, brave, handsome and loved. Louise Penny is clearly all those things as well.

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Were this not enough, the final author on the panel was Sebastian Junger. He came to fame most almost twenty years ago after writing A Perfect Storm. In 2010, his war documentary, Restrepo, about a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan came to the screen with widespread acclaim and awards. Out of this began a further study into PTSD, the importance of connections and belonging, the result of which is Tribe. The subject and his conclusions should bring about many conversations in the coming months.

It was a very good morning – informative and thought-provoking. From the four, I have literary fiction, mystery, nonfiction, and humor choices for any particular mood. And as I read them, I’ll keep you posted!