Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

I just finished Nickel and Dimed - On (not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. It records the author's foray into low-wage working-poor jobs - cleaning person, waitress, and Wal-Mart employee. She tries to find housing, find a job(s), and see how she can(not) survive this way for a month.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. Sometimes I found her style too sarcastic - that she was too stereotyping in her views or too flippant about her whole project and the people with whom she found herself interacting. On the other hand, I found some of her self-reflection inspiring in its humility. She admits to herself that she half expected to have people tell her how great she was at these low-paying jobs, or that someone would recognize that she was too smart and too educated and too out-of-place for the work she was doing. Instead, she finds it is hard to learn how to do the jobs she takes, and hard work to keep doing them each day.

But primarily, the book was eye-opening and informative. It reads like a novel - she has a great story-telling style, so it is a quick read if you have some time. But it's full of useful information that you would just never guess about how hard it is to get by if you haven't been there yourself.

I found her references to Christianity sometimes borderline insulting - but one section, where Ehrenreich attends a revival, really hit me for its truthfulness:

"It would be nice if someone [at the revival] would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth . . . I get up to leave . . . and walk out to search for my car, half expecting to find Jesus out there in the dark, gagged and tethered to a tent pole."
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