The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[08] Rocket Boys

Growing up, I was never a science kid. Anyone who knows me knows this isn’t at all surprising, as I am even less of a math person – give me English, history, or the social sciences any day of the week! But reading Rocketboys was the chance to see what it would be like to indeed be a science kid, the kind of person who can look at pages full of equations, diagrams, and numbers and see not chaos, but something supremely beautiful, bordering on magic. That’s the kind of experience Homer Hickam Jr. tells in Rocket Boys, a book that was turned in to the AH-MAZING Jake Gyllenhaal movie October Sky. Homer and his friend Odell, Roy Lee, Quentin, and Sherman were all teenagers in 1950’s West Virginia, living in a small mining town named Coalwood, deep in the valleys of the Appalachian mountains. Fascinated by space and the launch of Sputnik satellite, Homer and his friend learn everything they can about building rockets – through trial and error, self-teaching from textbooks, and the support of a speculative and unsure, but ultimately loyal, community. The boys end up winning the National Science Fair, and many of them go on to careers involving the space program.

This book made me interested in rockets and physics and chemistry in a way that no book has since I read The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier. Not only does Homer do a great job of breaking down the science and taking the reader through his thought process as he and the boys tried and failed and tried again. But more pervasive throughout the book is the feeling that Homer has of not belonging, of being a part of a community that just can’t understand why and how a boy like Homer Hickam is supposed to go to college and join the likes of Warner Vaun Braun in the space program. The feeling of being suffocated by the community and physical geography around you is made crystal clear, as Homer describes time and time again how the mountains that surround his village, at once beautiful and comforting, are also a physical manifestation of his feelings of being trapped in a place that he desperately wants to escape.

By the end of the book, Homer comes to realize that it isn’t that he doesn’t belong in Coalwood – indeed, the people of his town made him who he was, that from them he learned resilience, hard work, and supreme loyalty. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the tension established between Homer, his father Homer Sr., his mother Elsie, and the Coalwood Mining Co. Homer’s father is unable to show any kind of sensitivity towards his younger son, who he can’t understand and has nothing in common with (as opposed to Homer’s older brother, Jim, a football star). Homer’s mother tries, and loves Homer, and hates the way his father treats him, but is ultimately the loyal wife. Homer Sr., however, is a company man, and will do any and everything the company asks. As the book progresses, we begin to see that there’s more to Homer Sr. than meets the eye, but we never quite come to a place of complete redemption where he is concerned.

None of these thoughts are coherent. I blame lack of sleep for that – the semester just finished up, but I promised myself I’d get this up before I go hibernate take a nap. Long story short: West Virginia sounds beautiful; coal mining would suck; space is cool, but I still am really bad at science; this is one of the few books that also made an awesome movie.

Rating: Hell yeah!

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[03] Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage

OOOOHKAY. So. This book. I feel the need to preface this book analy-cussion thingy (analysis/discussion. get it?) by saying that I am, like, weirdly in love with this show. And with polygamists in general. This interest ranges from the extreme (couldn’t stop reading books like Escape and other FLDS compound related books) to the tame (see book, left) to the completely fictional (DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED about the crap ending to Big Love. Although all my love to Gennifer Goodwin). I don’t know what it is, but I blame the same part of me that decided to be be a sociologist in my undergrad and the part of me that likes to creep on people at the coffee shop to see what they’re ordering. It’s like a look inside a social environment that exists within the parameters of a social structure I also exist in. If that makes sense. Which it probably doesn’t.

Anyway, so this book is about now famous polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives, who are the subjects of the TLC show Sister Wives. If you haven’t watched it, and overwrought reality TV is your thing (sign me up for a double dose, if you please!) then you might just enjoy this kind of “behind the scenes” look at how the Brown family came to be. Only, here’s the thing. THEY ALL SEEM TO HATE EACH OTHER! It’s hilarious. Don’t get me wrong. I understand, as a newly married lady, that I’m just now coming to understand some of the complications, drama, and behind-closed-doors  situations that can, apparently, make married life somewhat difficult from time to time! And I imagine that, once you start adding multiple wives and children in to the mix, things can get a little overwhelming pretty fast. HOWEVER. Something just feels different about this particular familial tale.

The book opens and ends with chapters from Kody, wherein he offers his opinions and his “side” of the story as to how his family came to be, and how they keep functioning amidst the drama (those who watch the show will know that, shortly after ‘coming out’ as polygamists, the family faced ridicule in Utah, and so decided to move the entire family to Las Vegas). Between that, the story of the family unfolds as each of the four wives has a chance to talk about each “phase” of the relationship, including when various children were born and when the other wives came in to the family. The chapters go in order of the wives – Mary, Janelle, Christine, and Robin – and they all, basically, cover the same block of time in each chapter, so the reader seems pretty much the same set of events described from three or four point of views (Robin, the last wife, didn’t offer many opinions on the early years of the marriage). The ONLY  thing is that each of the women seem to say the same thing:

“I was hurt because the other wives misunderstood. Only not really. I misunderstood their misunderstanding. But I didn’t say anything because, you know. Kody. And the family.”

THEY ALL DO IT. So this entire family is essentially just everyone saying “I felt HURT. My feelings were treated BADLY.” But no one ever seemed to realize that if it’s happening to THEM, MAYBE it’s happening to a sister wive. I don’t know. A lot of it came across more like a dorm of girls who all happen to be dating the same man, than it did a personal description of plural marriage and what that’s like. And maybe I’m being unfair. The book never really touted itself as being any kind of description or defense of plural marriage as a whole – just to tell their story. But, as Spiderman tells us, with great power comes great responsibility, and I guess I just felt like if the Browns have chosen to make themselves known as a polygamist family, it’s kind of their “job” to ambassador for their lifestyle. Including like writing a better book.

Rating: Eh.

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