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ARC Review: The Divorce Colony

The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier by April White April White’s The Divorce Colony is set during the Gilded Age, in the America of the late 1800s. It revolves around the lax divorce rules then to be found in South Dakota.  Today, getting divorced is almost easier than getting married. But in the Gilded Age, divorces were not so easy to obtain. Divorce was viewed as a moral concern for the state, and was denounced from the pulpit for threatening the sanctity of marriage. Even President Theodore Roosevelt spoke out against it.  Laws around divorce tended to be most lax on the frontiers of the United States. By the 1880s the territory of Dakota gained the dubious honor of posting the largest rise in divorces in the country. At the turn of the century one city - Sioux Falls, South Dakota - gained a reputation for having the laxest divorce laws of all, and required only a three month residency in order to take advantage of them

Book Review: Rock Me On The Water: 1974-The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics

Rock Me On The Water: 1974-The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics by Ronald Brownstein

In this book journalist and editor Ronald Brownstein argues that 1974 was the height of LA’s cultural influence on the country at large. While this may be true I think the structure of the book gets in the way of his thesis, and isn’t the best framework to share his stories and insights on television, movies, music and politics. Despite that, I really enjoyed the book.

My main problem is the book’s structure. This is the second nonfiction book I’ve read in the last year that uses a single year’s calendar months as chapters. Based on that small sample size I don’t think it’s an approach that works very well. Brownstein has four different threads he’s trying to follow in this book. And he isn’t trying to stick only to events in 1974. To his credit he’s trying to tell the story of what the 1974 changes in music, movies, television and politics meant, where they came from, and where they were leading. So forcing himself into chapters nominally about the twelve months of 1974 is a difficult challenge for the writer, and for the reader. 

Brownstein has cast a pretty wide net with this book. He wants to explain how the 60s crashed into the 70s and changed American culture through these four areas of life. But, the book is pretty siloed. By that I mean that the stories of the four areas each have their own cast of characters, their own histories and their own trajectories through the turning of the culture.   

There are a few crossovers.  Jane Fonda was active in politics while trying to maintain her career in the movies.  Linda Ronstadt scored musical success in 1974 and is also romantically linked with Jerry Brown, who had his successful political run for California’s governor that year. 

The one thing that links all these stories is Los Angeles, the place where they all occur. The talent gathered in LA in the 1970s was amazing, and Brownstein captures that notion well. As someone who came of age in the midwest in the 1970s I can tell you that the siren call of California and LA was real. It was where things were happening, and where many of us wanted to be, to experience and take part.

What is so enjoyable about this book are the individual stories Brownstein tells. I didn’t care much for the structure, but the people and events he details were fascinating. For me this book is part nostalgia and part history. 

The fact that I listened to the audiobook also helped to make this book enjoyable. If I had tried to read this book I may have been overwhelmed - Brownstein covers A LOT of territory. Listening to it as an audiobook for an hour or so each day helped to break it up into bite sized pieces and, I think, made it more enjoyable.

What it comes down to is that I enjoyed this book probably more than it deserves. If you want to take a dive into early 70s LA history and read some good stories about the talent that brought cultural change to the movies, television, music and politics, and you are willing to put up with the weird structure the stories come in, then grab the audiobook of Rock Me On the Water. I give it Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐.   


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Title: Rock Me On The Water: 1974-The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics
Author: Ronald Brownstein
Publisher: HarperAudio (Harper Collins)
Publish Date: March 23, 2021
ISBN-13: 9780063066830
Publisher’s List Price: $29.99 (Digital Audio, MP3 as of 01/2022)