Book Reviews March 2017

By | March 29, 2017

Hello my delicate little sunflowers! I read some more books and then I wrote down what I thought of said books. Book reviews, go!

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloane

It started out strong with the possibility of mystical elements, but veered back into mundane life about halfway through. I enjoyed the style, but not the story.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Oh man. Reading this book left me depressed for days and kept me up at night to further impose its horror. Poverty sucks. Deep, grinding, generational poverty that consumes entire neighborhoods really really sucks.

Evicted focuses on the search for stable housing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Moving is stressful. Imagine moving and not knowing where you’ll go. What do you do with your stuff? Imagine spending 70%+ of your income to live in a crap place, with peeling paint and broken everything, ominous mold and dampness and failure staring at you everywhere you look.

Imagine that, despite giving 70% of your income to your landlord, you’re still behind on rent. You’re behind even though you didn’t pay the gas bill or haven’t bought food for a few days. That’s grinding poverty.

The book is excellent. The author writes in the third person so the reader focuses on the characters. We learn about his interactions only at the end in the “About this project” section. He lived in the trailer park and other neighborhoods that he writes about in the book, recording and talking to people.

The people he profiles are real and flawed. The trailer park was a white enclave and the people who lived there were startlingly racist. I found it hard to relate to anyone in the book. As a bleeding heart liberal, I know some of the poverty is structural. People can’t really live on minimum wage.

But, argh. Some of the poverty is the result of people making really bad fucking decisions over and over and over again. Defeated, they’re waving their white flags in surrender. They have no grit. One woman who wouldn’t consider selling her jewelry to pay her rent made me grind my teeth.

“It wasn’t like she had just stumbled into a pit and would soon climb out. Larraine imagined she would be poor and rent-strapped forever. And if that was to be her lot in life, she might as well have a little jewelry to show for it. She wanted a new television, not some worn and boxy thing inherited from Lane and Susan. She wanted a bed no one else had slept in….’Even people like myself,’ Larraine said, ‘we deserve, too, something brand-new.’”

Meh. Nobody deserves anything. Entitlement is the enemy of happiness. She couldn’t imagine a better future, so she would never have a better future. That’s the essence of grinding poverty. Only the current emergency matters. There’s no ability to plan for the future.

The author argues that poverty isn’t a result of poor decisions, but rather poor decisions are a result of poverty. Constant deprivation and scarcity changes the way your brain works. I agree with this, but it still annoys me.

His proposed solution is to treat housing like we treat child labor laws, to “place the well-being of people above money.” Okay.

I am intrigued by the idea of a universal basic income. People have the capacity to achieve great things. If nobody had to worry about food, housing and health insurance, they could focus on learning and creating and existing.

We are moving so far away from doing anything worthwhile for these people, from solving any of these problems. And I get the impression that the trailer park people are pretty much exactly the reason we have our current government. It’s just…I don’t know.

Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol

Sigh. White person goes into ghetto and converses with the children there. This time we’re in the Bronx in the 90s.

I need to stop reading about poverty for a while. I have real trouble mustering up sympathy for people who keep having children they can’t afford. Abortion is legal! I know – it’s normal to want to leave a legacy, to find purpose in raising another human being. Just because I don’t get it doesn’t make it wrong.

Sadly, these kids don’t really stand a chance. They live in a crime-infested neighborhood with terrible schools and highly stressed parents, not enough food and little prospects.

I’m so bloody sad.

Form Your Own Limited Liability Company by NOLO

This book was boring, but had some useful information about starting a company. I told you about it last week in greater detail.

I’m so glad I’m not a lawyer anymore and I don’t have to read boring stuff if I don’t want to. Reading this helps fight acclimation. My days could be so much more dull!

Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Dystopian future where firemen burn all the books and most people are too shallow to care. This is my idea of hell.

Become Your Own Matchmaker: 8 Easy Steps for Attracting Your Perfect Mate by Patti Stanger

Some good advice and strategies on how to life hack your way into a spouse. At some point, you just gotta say, okay. This works. This is good enough. It’s cool. Understand what’s really important to you. What really matters and, if that person has that in spades, you don’t have to think about anything else. Count yourself grateful and appreciate the company.

I’m going to try some of these tips and will report back. For now, here is a list the author recommended I make — my five non-negotiable traits cultivated from what worked and what didn’t from past exes.

Top 5 Must Haves for Mr. Thriftygal (Thriftydude?)

  1. He must be able to make me laugh consistently and he must get my humor. We must make each other giggle regularly.
  2. He must like to cuddle. Because touch is paramount for me.
  3. He must be financially savvy. That one’s obvious.
  4. He must exude optimism.
  5. He must be thoughtful.

28 thoughts on “Book Reviews March 2017

  1. jlcollinsnh

    ” If nobody had to worry about food, housing and health insurance, they could focus on learning and creating and existing.”

    Do you think the people in that book would really spend their time “… learning and creating and existing”? Does eliminating worries automatically lead to such things? Or does dealing with such challenges build grit that leads to such things?

    Or are people who have the capability and inclination to do so already making better choices?

    Beats me.

    1. classical_liberal

      I spent the better part of 2015 working near two very poor, rural reservations These folks basically had UBI in the form of free healthcare, food stamps, and very affordable housing provided. These were wonderful & proud people, but they were defeated despite basic needs being provided. Having food, shelter, and medical care doesn’t stop drugs, rape, and resentment. I don’t know what the answer is, I truly wish I did, but this experience taught me UBI wouldn’t be a cure all. People need to feel they have the opportunity to be safe, feel respected, and have the ability to better themselves. You can’t buy these things.

      1. snowcanyon

        We basically have UBI, at least for white, rural, native-born Americans. Check out this article:

        I don’t see them doing a whole lot with their lives. On the other hand, I know my life has been hard enough and unstable enough that I would never have the courage to stop salaried work the way my heroes such as you have. So I guess it goes both ways. But it does seem that the folks who need help are never the ones to get it (like the inner city folk in “Evicted”, or the people who have gone to their graves in the Mediterranean), and the ones who don’t need it get tons.

        1. Thriftygal Post author

          Interesting article! Thanks for sharing.

          And the fact that you’re reading these types of blogs shows that you’re at the very least open to the possibility. I think you’ll take the plunge one day. Everyone’s idea of “enough” is different and the more you think about it, the more comfortable you get. 🙂

    2. Thriftygal Post author

      Hey Jim! Yeah, I don’t know the answer to this question either, but I have to believe that at least some of people stuck in poverty would be able to pull themselves out. I do wonder if humans would just feel entitled if we gave them everything. Ugh, my head hurts now.

  2. veronica

    Excellent question Mr. Collins.

    Personally, I think a percentage of those people would just find something else to blame for their failed lives, once the option of blaming shortages of food, housing and health insurance were gone.

    But I truly believe that there are people out there, who are trying their best, working two or more minimum wage jobs, spending their non-working hours commuting on public transit, who’s children are not being adequately supervised not because of bad parenting, but because of a lack of time to parent. Are these people making bad financial decisions? Maybe. But maybe they simply don’t have the time, energy or know-how to think of what a better financial decision would be? And for those people, I would be willing to support the idea of a guaranteed basic income. Will some people take advantage of it. No doubt. But if it helps those others, the ones that could really use a break, that, IMHO deserve a break, it would worth it.

    Ah, what do I know. I’m just a middle-class, white, off-spring of immigrants, bleeding-heart, Canadian liberal. I’ll get off the soapbox and go back north of the 49th now.

  3. ambertherunner

    Ugh. Evicted sounds so interesting but horrifying and FRUSTRATING at the same time. As does Amazing Grace. I just cannot comprehend the foolish decisions people make that keep them in poverty- and bringing children into the same situation! It hurts my heart to think of so many kids who grow up in bad conditions just because their parents selfishly wanted a mini-me.

  4. DC

    The Matthew Desmond book looks pretty good. You reached the same conclusions I did after reading J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      That book is on the to-read list, but I need a break from this topic first. I’ve heard it’s excellent though.

  5. tt

    a gentle observation?

    Your thoughts on Mr. Penumbra were analytical. Mr. Thriftygal (dude), a little more revealing.

    Poverty, etc al? Passion. “Bloody sad” may describe your state of mind but you are of strong opinion on this topic!

    Should passion trump wanderlust?

    BTW: apropos of ‘exes’ a country song comes to mind:

    All my exes live in Texas
    Texas is a place I dearly love to be
    But all my exes live in Texas
    Therefore I reside in Tennessee!

    Apply as useful.


    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I might have passion for this subject, but I think doing anything other than reading about and writing about it would destroy me. It’s too sad a topic for my fragile sanity!

      1. tt

        “fragile” Hmm… I would have said disciplined or strong. Perhaps going your own way, against the crowd was easy for you; writing about avoiding debt or material culture, your “writing” is probably positively affecting many.

        retirement tho, is nothing if not managing your own ebb and flow of interests.

  6. Joanna

    It’s so sad that you are so flippant about abortion. Like it’s no big deal. The taking of an innocent’s life. Perhaps instead of using abortion for birth control people could, oh I don’t know, keep their legs closed, the pill, abstain…it’s murder. I guess I’ll have to unsubscribe. Thank you! I enjoyed you until now.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      We will have to agree to disagree on this topic. I’m sorry that you choose to unsubscribe because of this one sentence, but that is your right!

    2. snowcanyon

      Joanna- I hope you read this, and that you are still here. It’s so much more complex than that. I wish it weren’t, but it is.

      I encountered a woman a few weeks ago, a mother, who had recently (and with horrific guilt) terminated a pregnancy. She was of a religion that decried abortion and her guilt permeated every cell of her being. She was also a raging alcoholic who’d had a very rough childhood and was involved in an awful divorce. She has tried- she’s been to AA, she’s been to inpatient rehab, again and again. It’s a tough disease. She fell off the wagon and got pregnant, drunk for the entire first trimester. So she terminated. She herself was shocked- she’d said that she felt horrible, that she never thought she would be the person to do such a thing. But she realized that the chance of severe FAS was almost 100%, that the child would suffer horribly, and that she couldn’t raise the child and that most likely no one else would. So she terminated, which is a huge undertaking in my particular state.

      Women who have the intellectual and social capacity and fortitude to control their own fertility do. That’s why educated, liberal, upper middle class women rarely have terminations. But this woman, like many others, was in a terrible situation, and she had a terrible disease that clouded her judgement and rendered a healthy child, or even the chance of a moderately healthy child, impossible.

      She herself wished she’t thought ahead. But she didn’t, couldn’t, and I can’t see how anyone would have benefited from her carrying this pregnancy to term.

      I’m curious as to how you would solve such a situation.

      1. Thriftygal Post author

        Thank you for this comment. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m guessing that Joanna is gone. Most of the rabidly anti-choice people I’ve come across don’t care to discuss the nuances of the issue.

        1. snowcanyon

          Yes. And a lot of them have actually had terminations themselves, apparently, but choose not to extend that privilege to others, nor analyze their own religious beliefs.

          That and Trump voters make me despair for humanity.

  7. snowcanyon

    I’m so in denial of Brexit. My only consolation is that the Brexiteers appear poised to suffer more deeply for their bigotry than to the Trumpists.

  8. thingsthatsparkjoy

    I like your top 5’s for Mr Thriftygal. Humor is so important. Also, someone who does not think my humor is “weird” (as in strange, mentally deranged) Muahahaha. =)

  9. Laszlo

    What gnaws at me personally is not so much the abject poverty portrayed by the article from the Post, but rather the steep, prolonged, uphill slog that young professional women in for example the environmental and academic community experience. These are folks like Thriftygal — driven, educated, fit , eloquent — yet they make only 40-50K per year after earning a college degree and having worked 4-5 years in the same job. How do they muster grit, how do they manage to have hope, how do they break into a smile all day long? This is the perfect mouse trap, where on one hand it seems like society has given you recognition and a future, yet you are not able to make ends meet, on the other. Sometimes marriage to a good earning guy provides an out for these women but that I don’t think it changes the essential predicament. As Gandhi said, it takes very little to satisfy the physical needs of a human being, but it takes a whole lot to satisfy their spiritual needs. It’s sad that we can’t neatly separate these two needs , as live in multiple dimension at once. True tragedy lies not in being stuck in poverty all your life, but in trying to rise above it, over- reaching, and falling. When to succeed in knowing all you are selling your soul to the devil, and the devil comes at midnight to claim its prize, as in Marlowe’s Dr Faustus. In this light, I do not think UBI is the answer. The answer is a more predictable structure for human self-assertion.

    “The stars move still, time runs,
    The devil will come and Faustus must be damned.”


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