The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
This is a great book. It is the autobiography of Ruth Wariner, the daughter of a Polygamist cult leader shot to death by his brother when she was only three months old. Her mother Kathy married another polygamist, this one an abusive sociopath. Kathy ultimately had 10 children between her two husbands two of whom died during their childhood and a third one was institutionalized with various issues. Ruth grew up in abject poverty shuttling between despicable living situations in multiple cities in the Southwest and Mexico. Most of her time was spent in the polygamist enclave of Colonia LeBaron in Mexico founded by her father where she had 39 brothers and sisters across several families.
Ruth’s recounting of her early life is a difficult read but riveting. Every adult fails her and her siblings. However, at her core, Ruthie was a survivor and was ultimately responsible for saving her siblings and getting them out of a miserable and dangerous situation. This story is compelling from the very start and the book is hard to put down. I don’t know what it is about stories describing cults but this one is fascinating and a page turner. While she endures one horrific event after another, there is still an enduring love for her mother and siblings that transcends the day to day difficulties. The fact that Ruth could ultimately receive an education and write such a heartfelt chronicle of her childhood is a testimony to the strength and resilience of her character. You’ll want to read this book.
TV (the Book) by Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz
This is the latest book by prominent TV Critic Sepinwall and this one is co-authored by another well-known critic Matt Zoller Seitz. It chronicles the best 100 TV shows ever using a series of somewhat subjective criteria but complicated enough that it takes an entire chapter to describe it. There are also lists of shows that they liked that didn’t make the final cut either because they weren’t eligible due to the fact they are still in production or because the critics still loved them despite not making the top 100. This is a book that is only for the die-hard TV fan. I did not read all of it. Each show had a description and explanation for why the critics liked it but if it was a show that I will never watch, I didn’t bother to read what was said about it.
I follow Alan Sepinwall closely and have a great deal of respect for his reviews. He always influences which TV shows I decide to watch. I do wonder, however, whether a more diverse voice as his co-author would have made for a different list. Specifically, a great female critic (like Maureen Ryan) might have had a very different perspective on the rankings. I found the rankings to be heavily populated by shows that I find to be more “male-oriented” like violent cop shows and some animated ones. For example, I’m not sure the Simpsons would have been voted the top TV show of all time had a female voice been counted. Other shows like “Big Love” might have cracked the top 100 and Sports Night may have been ranked higher along with countless other shows that appeal more to women. The top five shows were: The Simpsons, The Wire, The Sopranos, Cheers and Breaking Bad. These would not have been my five shows but it is hard to argue that they aren’t deserving of a high score.
Everyone can argue the order of the rankings based on their personal favorites but the book is an exhaustive read with lots of thoughtful insights into many shows of the past 50 years. The arguments the authors used for their selections are solid and not particularly controversial. For TV lovers, it will give you ideas for what you might like to binge watch in the future. For others, it is likely a pass. I’d love a book from a couple of female critics to see how their rankings might play out. Until then, I’ll keep this around as a useful reference book.