Monday, December 30, 2013

Did Not Finish: Better Off Without 'Em by Chuck Thompson

Subtitle: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: August 2012
Source: GoodReads First Look

From GoodReads: In Better Off Without ’Em, the biggest book of his career, Thompson offers a heavily researched, serious inquiry into national divides that is unabashedly controversial, often uproarious, and always thought-provoking. By crunching numbers, interviewing experts, and traveling the not-so-former Confederacy, Thompson—an openly disgruntled liberal Northwesterner—makes a compelling case for Southern secession. Along the way, he interacts with possum-hunting conservatives, trailer park lifers, prayer warriors, and other regional trendsetters, showing that the South’s perverse church-driven morality, politics, and personality never have and never will define the region as a fully committed part of the United States. Better Off Without ’Em is a deliberately provocative book whose insight, humor, fierce and fearless politics, and sheer nerve will spark a national debate that is perhaps long overdue.

Why I couldn't finish: I read the introduction, first chapter (on religion), and half of the second chapter (don't really remember what that was on, I think politics). And then I gave up because I just didn't want to continue and didn't see much point in doing so. Yes, some of the content in the book was interesting, but my issues with it all far outweighed any enjoyment I was getting from reading.

1) Overgeneralization. Thompson paints the far-right quirkies (uber-conservative evangelical Protestants, Tea Partiers, Obama conspiracy theorists, etc.) as the typical Southerners, leaving no room for those of us who view such people as relatively harmless crazies. I grew up in small towns in rural North Carolina, I think I know Southerners fairly well. Yes, there's a lot of the crazies, but there's also a lot of us (particularly in the younger generations) who just move along, shaking our heads, when we encounter these people.

2) Offensiveness. I could perhaps excuse the overgeneralizations if Thompson was at least funny. I expected this to be rather like Confederates in the Attic (which, as a reenactor myself, I find uproariously funny and true to experience in the bits discussing reenacting), but Thompson's way of writing unapologetically sets out to offend every type of Southerner solely on the basis of his or her region of birth.

3) Poor argument. The whole thesis of the book has something to do with, to paraphrase, "since Southerners do their own thing that the rest of the U.S. doesn't/shouldn't like, wouldn't it just be better if the South was a separate country?" Except Thompson's logic often fails, with much inclusion of non sequiturs and little relation back to the original thesis except for brief token mentions at the end of the chapter.

The end result: If I ever attempt to read this again, it'll be a long time coming.

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