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RUNNING OUT

IN SEARCH OF WATER ON THE HIGH PLAINS

Less a polemic than a moving, melancholy, environment-focused memoir.

The author returns to his ancestral home in western Kansas to discover that the Dust Bowl of the 1930s is returning.

Bessire, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, reminds readers that the High Plains supported only marginal dry farming until after World War II, when the newly discovered Ogallala Aquifer, which extends from South Dakota to Texas, produced an irrigation bonanza that now supports one-sixth of the world’s grain production. Like fish, forests, and buffalo, it seemed inexhaustible—until it wasn’t. Massive withdrawal is shrinking the Ogallala, and many wells are running dry. Because it might hamper economic growth, conservation is often dismissed as unfeasible. Farmers and ranchers receive strict water quotas, but the amount guarantees withdrawals vastly exceed what is needed to replenish. Polls show that the majority of farmers want to save the aquifer and hope the government will take necessary action. One barrier is the “midlevel bureaucracy.” Only landowners vote on water policy, so wealthy, anti-conservation “water miners” dominate local boards. As a result, “regional water governance is a form of pay-to-play democracy reserved for the already privileged.” Traveling the country with his father, Bessire relearned the land’s unedifying distant history (Native genocide) and recent history: takeover by large agribusinesses with towns dominated by slaughterhouses, hog barns, feedlots, and dairies employing low-paid migrant labor. The author vividly describes dry riverbeds, abandoned fields, and, most poignantly, working farmers and ranchers, few of whom are prospering. Most work under contract to industrial agribusinesses. Bessire chronicles his interviews with a few villains and a few idealists but mostly with hardworking, good-humored, often cynical men (and a few women) doing their best in an environment often beyond their control. The author eschews the traditional how-to-fix-it conclusion. Readers may perk up when he describes impressive technical advances in saving water only to learn that they’re mostly devoted to extending the life of depleted wells.

Less a polemic than a moving, melancholy, environment-focused memoir.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-691-21264-7

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAID WILL SHOCK YOU

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

The comedian argues that the arts of moderation and common sense must be reinvigorated.

Some people are born snarky, some become snarky, and some have snarkiness thrust upon them. Judging from this book, Maher—host of HBO’s Real Time program and author of The New New Rules and When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden—is all three. As a comedian, he has a great deal of leeway to make fun of people in politics, and he often delivers hilarious swipes with a deadpan face. The author describes himself as a traditional liberal, with a disdain for Republicans (especially the MAGA variety) and a belief in free speech and personal freedom. He claims that he has stayed much the same for more than 20 years, while the left, he argues, has marched toward intolerance. He sees an addiction to extremism on both sides of the aisle, which fosters the belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be an enemy to be destroyed. However, Maher has always displayed his own streaks of extremism, and his scorched-earth takedowns eventually become problematic. The author has something nasty to say about everyone, it seems, and the sarcastic tone starts after more than 300 pages. As has been the case throughout his career, Maher is best taken in small doses. The book is worth reading for the author’s often spot-on skewering of inept politicians and celebrities, but it might be advisable to occasionally dip into it rather than read the whole thing in one sitting. Some parts of the text are hilarious, but others are merely insulting. Maher is undeniably talented, but some restraint would have produced a better book.

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781668051351

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

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Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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