About two months ago, my local public library initiated a couple of new practices, (probably adopted from the retail sector), such as actively engaging patrons with offers of assistance and prominently displaying new and in demand titles in hopes of making the library a bit more “user-friendly”, especially to those who don’t visit their library on a frequent basis. One such practice has been the promotion of certain books as “staff recommendations”. Last weekend during one of my library visits I spotted a copy of Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2008 essay collection This Land is Their Land: Dispatched from a Divided Nation. Flagged with a giant red bookmark as one of those staff recommendations and remembering that I’d had pretty good luck with her recent book Bright-Sided, I figured, what the heck and grabbed it. A few days later I began reading This Land is Their Land and before I knew it I ripped through her essay collection in what seemed like no time. Opinionated, satirical and snarky, I found her portrayal of America as a nation of economically assaulted and impoverished citizens ruled by a controlling class of robber baron corporate moguls and hard right conservatives witty and entertaining. Unfortunately, I fear that much of what she says might very well be true. After reading her stuff I’m left wondering if perhaps the vast majority of Americans are getting royally screwed over.
Yes she writes satirically and yes her essays seldom if ever contain a lot of supporting material to bolster her claims. And yes in her quest to expose the high crimes and misdemeanors of the rich and powerful, you wonder from reading her essays if she unrealistically gives the poor and downtrodden a pass by never entertaining the notion that many, but certainly not all, of the lumpen proletariat undoubtably make their lives worse by making bad choices when it comes to illegal drug use, alcohol abuse, gambling, criminal activity and failing to respect the value of education. But, as the Occupy Wall Street folks have fought hard to remind us during these last few weeks, a huge chunk of our nation’s population is clearly not doing well economically while a relatively small portion at the top seems to be thriving. Is this the birth pains of a new economy or the same old story of the rich taking from the poor ? Or something completely different ?
Whatever the reason or reasons might be, I’m sure Barbara Ehrenreich has a few worthwhile things so say about it.