Thursday, September 8, 2016

Another topic for book groups to explore: Poverty

The "haves" may say, why give them benefits, higher pay, health care? They buy drugs and steal from us. They abuse the system. Liberals throw money at them, with no improvement.
Both sides disagree on the best approach to poverty, but not on its scope. Preserving economic inequality through callous ignorance creates cultural blindness, which in turn allows those who "have" to ignore those in need.

Plenty of people on every economic level, however, seek to end the cycle of poverty and hunger. Futurists and cultural anthropologists write abundantly and knowledgeably about inequality. Their books may give rise to heated discussion in your group, even stimulate some form of action.
Here are a few popular books suited for general readership.

"Nickel and Dimed," Barbara Ehrenreich—This 2001 account of an "experiment"—in which a woman works alongside others earning minimum wage in three U.S. cities—has become a college-level requirement. It shares the strained lives of people Ehrenreich met. The author never loses sight of her task or her luck: she gets to return to her life and write a book after leaving the struggling class. It's a readable account of how people live when they can't make ends meet.

"$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America"— Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer combined research and economic calculation to expose sharply increased levels of poverty. Many Americans live on the equivalent of $2 a day, skipping meals and other basic needs while resorting to various unconventional ways (like donating blood) to obtain what they need.

"White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America"—Nancy Isenberg questions whether life in the U.S. really is as "equal" as people may like to think. In "White Trash," published in June, Isenberg evaluates economic, political, cultural and scientific arguments to reveal how much the idea of class plays into our thinking. (One might comprehend why those with little but class history cling to bellicose braggarts who promise a huge future.)

"Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City"—This much-praised work by Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond portrays real poverty—from eviction to homeless shelter. It's likely to have a deep impact on the way we look at deprivation in this country. Set in Milwaukee—a city now burning with rage—it relates the stories of eight families in poor neighborhoods. To understand, we need to feel, and Desmond's work provides that. It's desperation time. From the New York Times: “Written with the vividness of a novel, (Evicted) offers a dark mirror of middle-class America’s obsession with real estate ... where evictions have become just another part of an often lucrative business model.”
"Born Bright: A Young Girl's Journey from Nothing to Something in America"—C. Nicole Mason's memoir brings readers into the heart of poverty, as a girl born to a 16-year-old single mother learns to navigate between crazy home life and the school where she finds herself. She struggles to find a better future. Mason reveals the reasons poverty is nearly impossible to escape and rejects the notion that the poor don't help themselves enough.

"Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis"—J.D. Vance's book provides a paint-by-numbers look at what's gone wrong with America's middle class to create such dysfunction and confusion. His Appalachian family should never have produced a Yale Law School scholar, but it did. An eye-opening look at the legacy of abuse and addiction, told with love and humor.

"The New Trail of Tears: How Washington is Destroying American Indians"—Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote this newly published account of poverty, suicide and violence on American reservations. Riley talks about the federal policies behind Indian poverty, which have created a third-world reality for them in America.

Ann Connery Frantz writes about books, authors and book groups for the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette, and is a co-founder of the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative, offering writing classes, workshops, critique and writing groups, and author presentations.