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Another Trip to S-Town: a Reading List for Those Who Wish to Understand the Maze in John B. McLemore's Brain
Okay, so you binged This American Life’s spinoff podcast, S-Town, and now your head is full of conspiracy theories, you have a newfound respect for horologists, and all of your coworkers who haven’t spent 7+ hours with John B. McLemore just don’t understand. For those of you who want to spend a little more time wandering around S-Town, inside the maze that is John B’s brain, here’s a list of further reading.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
J.D. Vance’s memoir deals with the struggles of growing up in a disintegrating Appalachian town and the class struggles him and his family faced. While Vance goes on to graduate from Yale Law School, he is able to get to the heart of poverty and provide insight for our current America.
White Trash by Nancy Isenberg
The poorest among us in our country have always been used to advance the agenda of politicians and to further national ideals. “American democracy has never accorded all the people a meaningful voice. The masses have been given symbols instead, and they are often empty symbols.” Isenberg’s book is an interesting look into the caste system of our country over the past four hundred years.
William Faulkner is a master of writing about the essentials of human existence. Early on in S-Town, they mention his short story “A Rose for Emily” (with the song of the same title by The Zombies playing at the end of every episode) and the parallels between John B and the title character, Emily, are undeniable. The rest of this collection delves further into the culture of the deep south.
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
Marie Curie used radium to impress people with her glow-in-the-dark experiments. Lewis and Clark’s campsites and trail can still be found today due to the mercury pills they took during their expedition. Mercury doesn’t break down, so traces of it are in the latrines they used along the way. This book covers the elements of the periodic table through stories of their discovery and the people who used them.
This Close to Happy by Daphne Merkin
Daphne Merkin’s memoir of her lifelong struggle with chronic depression and her relationship with her mother gives a heartbreaking look into one woman’s reckoning with mental illness.
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
"Right now we are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction, this time caused solely by humanity's transformation of the ecological landscape." Since the beginning of life on earth, our planet has undergone five mass extinctions. Elizabeth Kolbert argues that we are on our way to a sixth mass extinction—and humans are the catalyst. Kolbert reports on operations worldwide that are considered the cause of extinction for numerous species of plants and animals.
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