Book Review: Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance by Bill McKibben

Welcome to Vermont in the winter of 2017. Donald Trump has been elected president, the winters are more midatlantic mudfest than snowy paradise, and the strange, unique state of Vermont seems more and more in danger of becoming just another bland American state. Enter Vern Barclay, 70 year old radio show host and current leader of a quiet underground movement seeking a free, independent republic of Vermont. Vern comes into his activism more by accident than by malicious intent, but before he knows it, he has become the leader of a movement dedicated to keeping Vermont small, fair, weird, beautiful, and free.

As a University of Vermont alumna and as a former resident of the state, I always enjoy reading stories focused on my former home. McKibben has created a small, odd tale of resistance that mirrors the small, odd state of its setting. Even when I lived in Vermont (which is about a decade ago, now), you could walk into a restaurant and know exactly where the food you were eating came from. Vermont was a localvore haven long before the word was invented. The state is home to way more microbreweries and distilleries than you think you may need. The funky, friendly, live-and-let-live attitude of the majority of the state means that you can have your hippy-dippy Subaru and co-op grocery, and your handguns too. Add to all this the fact that Vermont, being small yet mighty, has made overtures of independence and succession in the past. In fact, one area of the state, called the Northeast Kingdom gets its name from an unsuccessful attempt at sovereignty when the country was young.

What we have in Radio Free Vermont is an uplifting (though very, very white) story of resistance Vermont style, involving calm discussion, reasoned arguments, lots of local beer, minor property damage, cross country skiers, and no violence. This is a resistance with an undercurrent of subtle Yankee humor. This is a resistance of the intimately local, and of neighborly cooperation. It is not loud, or violent, but it is the spark of something beautiful and funny that helps light the darkness of our current times.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review. 

A TBR for the Next Four Years #Resist (Part One)

First off, I’d like to thank everybody who responded to my Reading List for the Resistance post over a variety of platforms. This is my follow-up list, a resistance-themed TBR of books I plan to read (hopefully I’ll get to most of them this year). As I read and review each, I’ll be adding links for convenience sake. I’ll likely be posting updates as well when new books come to my attention. As always, if you have anything you think I should add, give me a shout!

I’d also like to add that I tried to make an effort to seek out books with diverse authors. My searches led me to some very interesting books, and I’m excited to read them!

Brave New World
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

This was by far the most suggested book, and I shockingly have never read it! Brave New World introduces us to a dystopian future where even our genetics are under the thunb of the World Controllers. This book is considered a classic of dystopian literature.

Anarchism and Other Essays
Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman

Okay I’m going to say this once: I do not condone bomb-throwing and attempted assassination. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Emma Goldman as something of a badass. An immigrant who came to the United States around the turn of the 20th century, Goldman became the queen of the anarchist movement in New York. She advocated and lectured for prison reform, for an end to inequality, she spoke out about rampant militarism and sexism. All topics which are still relevant today.

The Origins of Totalitarianism
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt

Another great suggestion! This book details the rise of totalitarianism in Europe, starting with the rise of anti-semitism in the early 1800s through to Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia. An important book to help set current events in perspective.

Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith by Alethia Jones, Virginia Eubanks, Barbara Smith

A fascinating look at the life and activism of Barbara Smith. Smith has an unreal amount of experience with grassroots social justice movements. As a black woman, and a lesbian, she has been fighting for equal rights on several fronts for most of her life. This book actively deals with the current hot button topics of intersectionality and identity politics, and as such is a good reference for anyone looking to become an ally.

The Book of Unknown Americans
The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez

This is a fictional story about immigrants from Mexico and from Panama. While ultimately a love story, this book also deals with the effervescence of the American dream, and the meaning of being an “American.”

The Book Thief
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Another critically-lauded fictional work (and a hit movie!). This was suggested by a Litsy member as a necessary read. Beyond the subject of Nazi Germany, The Book Thief is also about the importance of resistance in the face of fascism.

The Illegal
The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

Another fictional tale about a marathon runner named Keita who flees his native Zantoroland to become a refugee in the natiojn of Freedom State. Unfortunately, Freedom State is cracking down on undocumented people. Facing death if he returns to his homeland, Keita instead becomes part of the underground of Freedom State.

The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics
The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno De Mesquita, Alastair Smith

This nonfiction look at politics starts with one simple hypothesis, that politicians’ primary interest is to keep themselves in power, whatever the cost to the “national good.” The book posits that the line between a democracy and a tyranny is perilously thin, needing only the complacence of enough people to shift from the former to the latter.

It Can't Happen Here
It Can’t Happen Here

On a related note, this Great Depression-era political satire details the rise of an American president who installs himself as a dictator to save the United States from welfare cheats and the liberal media (sound familiar?). Written as the Nazis were coming to power in Germany, this book could be taken from today’s headlines.

Okay, that’s probably enough for now, I’ll be putting out another list soon. In the meantime, feel free to chime in with your own suggestions!

A Reading List for the Resistance

This past week has been a whirlwind. Eight days ago Donald Trump assumed the leadership of one of the most powerful countries on earth. In this short amount of time, he has appointed bankers, billionaires, and executives to head up his cabinet. He has signed executive order after executive order which diminish the rights and the quality of life that my fellow countrymen deserve. He has also inspired massive protests around the united States and the world. This is not a political blog, this is a reading blog. But in the face of nascent fascism, I feel I must resist when and how I can. Today I am using my favorite weapon: Books.

Looking to get mad or stay that way? Want inspiration or motivation? Want to expand your reading outside of your comfort zone? This is my reading list for the resistance.

The Handmaid's Tale                                                                       1984

Okay, these two are probably the most obvious. Let’s face it, the current administration seem to have taken The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 as instruction manuals rather than dystopian speculative fiction. Since “alternative facts” are making a comeback, 1984 will give you the rundown on just how to go about training yourself to accept them. And with both the executive and legislative branches of the government intent on rolling back women’s rights, you might want to check out this view of a United States that took that position to the extreme. And remeber:

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)

Don’t laugh. Everyone has got to start somewhere, and The Hunger Games is a great place to do so. The surprisingly complex young adult series brings the power of resistance to younger readers and those who would rather not start out with weightier tomes. Plus, you’ve got to love a strong, flawed female protagonist.

Human Acts

This book may be one of the best of 2017. No Joke. Human Acts, written by Han Kang, is the story of an uprising and brutal massacre that took place in South Korea in 1980. The book is powerful, and extremely moving. Beyond the relevance of a “Democratic” government brutally putting down its own citizens, this book also explores the nature of crowds: the increase in brutality on the part of the soldiers receiving encouragement from on high, and the courage of the citizens who stand together in solidarity.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Erik Larson is the king of narrative nonfiction. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin gives insight into the rise of Nazism through the experiences of an American diplomat and his family. Larson is famous for the depth of his research on his chosen subjects,and this book is no exception.

V for Vendetta

The classic graphic novel about resistance in the face of fascism (and the inspiration for those lovely masks Anonymous members are always wearing). V for Vendetta takes place in an alternative England ruled by a pseudo-christian dictator. I hesitate to add, but you can also watch the movie version (not as good, but love to John Hurt).

These six books will get you started. I’ll be posting my #ResistTBR in a few days. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts, as well as any suggestions for further reading! I’ll certainly be adding more books in future posts, so let me hear from you!