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August 11, 2001

More Book Chatter

I just returned a library book, after reading about half of it. The book was Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By In America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Why did I return it half read? Was it a bad book?

Not at all. To my socially liberal sensibilities, it was a fine book, journalism in it's best light. Ehrenreich joins the ranks of the working poor for several months. She sets the goal of being able to pay for food and housing using only the money she can earn working unskilled jobs, posing as a recently divorced woman forced to re-enter the work force with no professional skills. She seeks to see what secrets the poor have for getting by on low wages, and discovers that there are no secrets, life is damn hard. Duh, huh?

It's in how she tells her tale, from direct experience living this life, that gives the book it's value. I eventually stopped reading it for the simple reason that the story was plain well before the end of the book. It echoed my own experience as an unskilled teenager and, early on, college student. I think any young person who isn't solely supported by their parents until they graduate from college and land that first job, knows what the life of the poor is like, at least a little. But being young, we don't really care, since we think we are invulnerable and immortal anyway. Most of us are lucky enough to transcend that initial poverty, though. And some of us, I'd guess, forget all about it.

Jean and I often reminisce about those days of eating beans and rice, living in shabby apartments, working and taking classes at the same time. Just a few different choices, a few bad breaks, and we'd be in this book. I've always said every kid should work food service or some other menial service job, so they get a taste of what they'll be doing their whole life if they don't find a skill and nourish it. Maybe I'll buy this book and store it away for when Kelly gets older...

Posted by dpwakefield at August 11, 2001 01:09 PM