Don’t like where you live? Socialize. Volunteer. Make lists. Or you could just move.
It was the fact of yet another move that prompted this book, if in a roundabout way. Recounts freelance journalist Warnick, relocating from Austin, Texas, to the cold, rainy hills of southwestern Virginia stirred up some hard thoughts about place and community, thoughts that became harder when circumstances did. “Life in a smaller town was supposed to be simpler, but nothing was easy, not even the easy stuff,” she writes. It wasn’t just finding a new dentist and picking out a pediatrician, but also building friendships and connections to the place—a challenge that all too many of us know, since, by the author’s reckoning, the average American moves about a dozen times over a lifetime. So what to do? Warnick alternately goes deep, quoting from the eminent French philosopher Simone Weil on community, and shallow, making all-too-obvious true/false where-you-are lists gauging such matters as “I like to tell people about where I live” and “I hope that my kids live here even after I’m gone.” It’s the simplifying to the point of simplistic stuff that’s maddening about this book, which has plenty of promise but not much in the way of execution. For instance, it may appeal to the privileged person who feels a little bad about the homeless guy down the street to give some thought to the negatives about where you live, but “volunteering for a gardening club…or starting an afternoon ballroom dance program at the local YMCA” isn’t likely to ease the hardships of the homeless. There are many other recipes geared for do-gooder gentrifiers and lots of checklists, cheerleading, and the patently obvious (“Volunteering is, by definition, the thing we don’t have to do”), but as to anything truly useful—well, for that, you’ll need to move on to another book.
Well intended but unsatisfying.