OK, so it may be that the blue and pink collar work force is easier to love than middle management. It may be that the real heroism in this country isOK, so it may be that the blue and pink collar work force is easier to love than middle management. It may be that the real heroism in this country is found closer to the poverty line then to middle management. Certainly, it is clear that Barbara Ehrenreich believes this to be true. A comparison of Bait and Switch with her earlier Nickel and Dimed demonstrated that while Ehrenreich finds much to lament in the plight of the working class, she generally finds the corporate world laughable and the white collar unemployed closer to pathetic than tragic. Perhaps these are defensible stances, but not when you present yourself, which she shamelessly and unironically does at one point, as deeply compassionate and empathetic, or as the scholarly investigative writer she equally believes herself to represent.
I am always at least a bit put off by investigative writers and documentarians who put themselves at the heart of the story they tell. While it may be necessary to assume a disguise when penetrating a secretive organization or particularly shadowy corporation, surely at least some of the middle class unemployed are not unwilling to speak frankly about their experiences and expectations. Why would stories told in the real voices of the unemployed be less compelling or insightful than Ehrenreich's own? But, putting this initial, and only slight objection aside (it is fun, after all, to read the narrative of a complete outsider penetrating a new world, even if not entirely convincing) my major objection to this book is how callously Ehrenreich dismisses the unemployed workers she interacts with as automatons and gullible fools. Ehrenreich’s time spent among job coaches and consultants as an ersatz job seeker causes her to deride the industry as filled with “victim blamers” who cause the unemployed to question their own self worth rather than external forces like the market and unethical corporations that might be equally culpable.
However, more subtly but equally insidiously, Ehrenreich spends much of the book engaging in equally cold victim blaming: after all, she implies, only the truly stupid and unaware would fall into obvious traps like image consulting and faith-based networking when looking for a new position. Unlike the working class, Ehrenreich seems to suggest, these people should know better. Of course, she never stops to consider that many job seekers likely don’t go the route she takes when looking for a new position. I have known a few of the unemployed middle class, at least one of whom was recently without work for more than a year, and none used the myriad methods Ehrenreich so condescendingly employs. But more importantly, are those who do use such methods really to be mocked rather than pitied? Desperation makes even very smart, very capable people fall pray to illogical behavior. Surely this is a demonstration of how much these people want to find employment, not of their congenital stupidity.
But by far the most egregious assumption made by Ehrenreich is that she is not only utterly qualified for a corporate position, but that she is over-qualified. I noticed a similar, although slightly less pervasive, suggestion in Nickel and Dimed. In that book, she mentions that nobody who interviewed or hired her ever commented on her education or that she was a writer. Gee. I’ve known someone with three degrees, two of them Master’s, and two very prestigious schools on her resume who spent the past year working at a minimum wage job in Chicago because nobody wants an historian or an English professor. Maybe the reason nobody hiring Ehrenreich asked about her qualifications is because they see it all the time, and it says absolutely nothing for the applicant’s ability to clean toilets or fold shirts. In this newer book, Ehrenreich is even more insulting. She seems to think that people should be lining up to hire someone with her not very impressive sounding and MADE UP credentials. Can’t imagine why nobody jumped at the opportunity presented there. I wonder how she would react to a typical corporate-type who showed up at her door, insisted they were qualified to be a co-author on her next project, and then provided a falsified resume to strengthen their assertion. Surely, she would explain the many hours, even years, which went into honing her craft. She would talk about training and education, the commitment needed to get up every day and write a book. But, she thinks so little of the profession she attempts to enter that she assumes her skills are not only transferable, but better than.
Alright, admittedly, this is a really long review and diatribe. And all this being said, I do think there is a great deal in the corporate world that should be changed. I agree with Ehrenreich that we should be marching for health care coverage, and to remove more bias from the workplace. The state of the unemployed from all walks of life is lamentable, and I hope never to find myself back in the grind of job-hunting or working in the corporate world, either as a member of middle management or a blue-collar worker. But, I also think that the academic and non-profit worlds are generally out of touch and condescending. I find it hypocritical to assume that anyone with half a brain, or a conscience, would follow the same path you yourself have taken. There are good people who end up corporate managers, born-again Christians, and Republicans. Really. And if Ehrenreich has no empathy for the middle class, she shouldn’t write about them while professing something else entirely. ...more
Take a real literary hoax from 1940s Australia and mix with Frankenstein...this is what you get. If you are a genius. Lately I am going through a bitTake a real literary hoax from 1940s Australia and mix with Frankenstein...this is what you get. If you are a genius. Lately I am going through a bit of an Australian/New Zealand reading craze. I had never heard of Peter Carey. Now I am a wreck who can't stop thinking about how much I would like to french this guy. I loved the strangeness of it...which seemed very Nabokov to me. I love authors who can take ridiculous set ups and make them so real you dream about nothing else while you're reading the story. The villains seriously gave me cold sweats, and Chubb is so flawed but so pitiful. But most of all, I just adore narrator Sarah. She seems so boring and in love with post-modern crap and unlovable. My least favorite type of character. But then she drops all, and really falls in love with something, the way the best people do. Oh, I could go on for hours. Also, did I mention, this is the book that really does the whole Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now thing best for me. It seems to be one of those books people either hate or love. I am fully on the side of passionate abandon with this one. ...more
I am giving this book four stars, even though it is very unfair. I adored Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Scribbling the Cat SO MUCH (with ColtI am giving this book four stars, even though it is very unfair. I adored Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Scribbling the Cat SO MUCH (with Colton H. Bryant somewhere in the 4.5 star range) that I am giving this book a four only in comparison. I do have to say that the whole idea of the Tree of Forgetfulness itself just floored me. I mean, the actual tree. I want one of my very own. Also, I still find it amazing how Alexandra Fuller does a better job than anyone I know of writing about racism and the ugly history of colonialism in Africa in a way that is both utterly straightforward and empathetic. She does this amazing thing of never forgiving her parents for their colonial tendencies without making me, as a reader, hate them. It is just the most unbelievable tightwalk. I want to meet Nicola Fuller of Central Africa. Also, every time I read about Africa, I just want to pack up and see it myself. Is there any other place that has been so coveted and so maligned? What does it feel like to stand at the birthplace of everything? I want some perfect equatorial light and forgetfulness of my own... ...more
Besides this whole hulabaloo: http://www.vanityfair.com/fame/featur... I also just found the author a bit too much like the poor man's David Sedaris. IBesides this whole hulabaloo: http://www.vanityfair.com/fame/featur... I also just found the author a bit too much like the poor man's David Sedaris. I have a hard time really believing either of them are always telling the truth (or even nearly) but David Sedaris is better at not telling the truth, and funnier too. In any case, I was just so over the whole grotesqueness on top of grotesqueness of the thing by the end of it, and I have a pretty high tolerance for lack of hygeine and ugly sex generally. Seriously, even if you did have such a crappy childhood, why would you approach it as a reason to brag? Have the decency to turn your dysfunctionality into barely disguised autobiography that at least has the pretension of being art. Like every other unhappy-kid-turned-author ever born. Ever heard of Tennessee Williams? Now that's how you take your own depressing family life and turn it into something worth reading - repeatedly. I am so done with memoirs. What is this thing where nobody writes novels because real life is more compelling? If real life were generally more compelling than reality television wouldn't need editing. So shut up already. ...more
An adopted black high school senior in very white central Washington brings together a crew of outcasts for a swim team. Good considering the rather hAn adopted black high school senior in very white central Washington brings together a crew of outcasts for a swim team. Good considering the rather ho-hum premise. The main character is believable and a strong narrator, the plot is interesting and well-paced. Good for a reluctant teen reader, especially one with an interest in sports. Some language, not too bad. An interesting look at racism, sports obsession, and what makes a family. Also good in that the adoption thing is presented more as a fact than some big center of controversy and despair...Oh, but did I mention that I can't figure out the cover. Why is there randomly a white jock running on the book about a black protagonist? Weird. ...more
This gets three stars more because I was interested in learning about the contest culture of the 50s and 60s than because of the writing itself. I nevThis gets three stars more because I was interested in learning about the contest culture of the 50s and 60s than because of the writing itself. I never knew that the kind of word contests depicted in the book existed, and I also thought it was fun to read some of the ad slang of the time. I have always liked how ads in the 50s and 60s used words. A sort of golden age in advertising. And WAY kitsch.
However, I think it is difficult when reading this memoir not to be angry at everyone for putting up with the father's alcoholic rages and general unprovoked idiocy. Although I know it was a different era, and I realize that a mom with ten kids might be hard-pressed to leave a husband who brings in even a bit of cash, I still felt frustrated that the author never even touched on how they could stand living with the guy, or how such a smart woman never blew a fuse and killed him to collect insurance. Also, not that well-written, the only real highlights were reproductions of the contest entries written by the author's mom.
Overall, I wished mom had written the memoir herself....more
Let me begin by saying that, in the main, I am on Ms. Levine's side of the political aisle. I certainly think of myself as a liberal and a feminist.
TLet me begin by saying that, in the main, I am on Ms. Levine's side of the political aisle. I certainly think of myself as a liberal and a feminist.
That being said, this book was not a cogent call to arms for likeminded activists, a reasoned diatribe against consumerism, or even a mildly entertaining look at how Americans live (and buy) in the early part of this century.
Instead the book is a poorly written, self-indulgent, and condescending look at "doing without". While the author and her partner enjoy the benefits of two homes, three cars, and a plethora of options not possible to the working class, Ms. Levine is nevertheless ballsy enough to embark on a book about doing without. I think one of the moments that best summed up this entire failed experiment was when the author mentioned how often her friends are shocked to hear she is doing without films.
In the real America, when we "decide" to do without, we make decisions about whether to let our prescription drugs lapse or buy food for the family, whether to make an ER trip because we couldn't afford to go to a primary care physician, and whether to pay the heat, electric, or water bills this month. I know I don't get to decide that the New York Times and $55 haircuts are necessities. Let's talk about real decisions. I don't begrudge the author her $1,000/year diabetic cat, or even her non-processed organic foods (another option many of us simply can't afford), but I most certainly resent that Judith Levine holds up this year of her life as anything more than a cute and patronizing indulgence of her own whims.
As my husband pointed out when I was discussing the book with him, "They aren't buying anything, but they can't even cut their own hair? They have a forty-acre place in Vermont and can't even grow SOME of their own food?"
Although I do think you can "do without" and exercise constraint on any income, my point is that I disagree heartily with this book on what constitutes constraint. I don't think keeping a NY Times subscription and getting haircuts at the salon demonstrate financial discipline in a year when you claim to be going without any kind of spending. Moreover, the author never seems to see herself clearly. It is easier to claim to be "doing without" when you have all the material comforts you need: nice homes, cars, clothing, and friends who will treat you to dinner and a night out. Who needs to shop? But even with all these benefits, the author still never truly does without. Even that I could forgive, if she would own up to shortcomings, instead of spending so much of the book lauding her own efforts. I am insulted by a person who seems outraged that she should be expected to pay back student loans, and repeatedly calls on the country to fund the arts but mocks the artists who present free entertainments. If there were real insight expressed, or even plain good writing, I could have really enjoyed the book. Instead, I feel the author is out of touch and intellectually dishonest with and about herself.
I don't know that I picked up this book (from the library) expecting a book that would teach me how not to buy, or solve the big problems of the world. But I think I should get more than this book had to offer. Like some of the "g*dawful" free entertainments the author substituted for her usual round of paid theatre and film performances, I expect more than this book has to offer. Even when I don't pay for it. ...more
I loved this memoir. If you are sick of dysfunctional crybabies, even funny ones (think Augusten Burroughs and Running with Scissors or A Child CalledI loved this memoir. If you are sick of dysfunctional crybabies, even funny ones (think Augusten Burroughs and Running with Scissors or A Child Called It or.....) this is the perfect antidote. A perfectly normal childhood. But well-written, well-observed, and laugh out loud at times. I liked reading about someone who wasn't a genius, wasn't particularly precocious, didn't live in an ideal town, but did live in a good one. A pleasant read for a summer afternoon. I read some vegetarian's review and they hated it. But seriously, the animal stuff is totally hysterical. I literaaly laughed out loud repeatedly. ...more