I’m glad I read this book. However, I don’t know if I liked it as a book. The format seemed to be lacking. It felt like reading a series of articles. It was very well written, well researched, the subject matter was rich with important insights, and I felt like I learned a lot. But I felt like I was reading a textbook instead of a book.
Granted, a lot of my nonfiction exposure thus far (outside of undergraduate and graduate courses) has been with authors like John Krakauer who spin an interesting narrative through their book. But in On The Run Goffman recites her findings and supports said findings with necessary evidence. Essentially, the book seemed to lack a certain passion and personality that I was hoping for. And as a result I never fully connected to the author or her subjects. But I guess it makes sense… this book is literally an anthropological study in book form. Much like a documentarian she keeps her reporting scientific and observational.
I think what I would have preferred was if the Methodological section in her appendix were introduced in the very beginning. Because as I was reading I felt myself disbelieving some of her stories. I would wonder, why would these people trust a girl like this? How much did they know she’d be retelling? How unaffected is her data if she’s seeing it all from the lense of white privilege? Do her parents know she’s watching Gangs of New York at 2am in a neighborhood like 6th Street? I think hearing more about the evolution of her study and the relationships she built would have given the stories and data more credence at the offset.
Even though this book wasn’t quite what I was expecting, like I said, I’m glad I read it. So often we look at the issues with our country (racism, sexism, religious prejudice, hate crimes, terrorism, etc.) and feel helpless. Or at least I do. But in this case, Goffman presents a tangible look into why some lives are the way they are. Personally I’d never thought of the fact that at the same time black Americans were achieving their legal rights to full citizenship, the federal government declared war on drugs and crime. Ipso fact0: the prison boom. And the fact that a lot of these young men don’t have legitimate government ID’s is another issue I never thought of. It’s further evidence as to why a lot of men (and women) in this community struggle to hold jobs and live a law-abiding lifestyle. I do wish Goffman hovered around the family issues a little more. It seems the men and women (boys and girls) in this community, and I suspect in many other low-income communities, find themselves parents at such a young age. And this adds to the struggles. As it would, and does, for anyone trying to provide a good life for a child. Why are so many young people becoming parents so soon, and so frequently? This seems to be another big part of the puzzle I’d like to learn more about.
All in all, I’m glad I checked this one off the list. Especially now. But I wish the sequencing was a little better organized and that the stories of her subjects were more fluid and easy to follow. I recommend you put this on your to-read list. But maybe read it in sections as you would an article series.
After reading this I can’t help but feel increasingly more frustrated with the systems in place which perpetuate these issues. And our lack of capacity for change. Hopefully the most recent deaths (both civilian and police) are, in the least, opening blind eyes to the fact that we have big problems in this country. We need change…. not “again,” but anew. America’s never been “great.” Not for anyone but the few and mighty privileged. But I digress. I’ll just leave you with this quote that this book kept making me think of:
My thoughts exactly.