I don't know why, but I've never been a huge Barbara Ehrenreich fan. This is awkward, since I agree with her on most (not all) issues of political policy. I always check her books out when they come out. A lot of times I even chuckle at a lot of her writing. But for some reason, I never get her book and say, "At last! My new Ehrenreich is in!" At most, I give a little shrug of "hm, I should probably read this, I guess," and then leave it until right before it's due to read it.
Her latest, This Land is Their Land, has not done much to endear her to me. Again, there's nothing I disagree with here. It's basically a book of essays about the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the increasing classism in our society. Parts of it are very amusing; she's always had a nice ability to turn a phrase. Consider:
"Twenty years ago it was risky to point out the growing inequality in America. I did it in a New York Times essay and was quickly denounced, in the Washington Times, as a 'Marxist.' If only. I've never been able to get through more than a couple of pages of Das Kapital, even in English." (p. 23.)
Now, that's amusing. I also enjoyed her chapter outlining a connection between modern calorie-counting and high carb diets and modern fat-deprived executives therefore never feeling sated by food or money. With that she contrasts her own diet when growing up:
"We ate eggs every morning, meat for lunch, and meat again for dinner, invariably accompanied by gravy or at least pan drippings. We buttered everything from broccoli to brownies and would have buttered butter itself if it were not for the problems of traction presented by the butter-butter interface." (p. 30.)
She's also very, very sharp. This is a powerful statement: "According to Wal-Mart defenders, those low prices hinge not only on improvements in productivity but on the low wages and benefits offered to Wal-Mart's workers. In other words, you've got to squeeze one part of the working class--the 1.3 million Wal-Mart employees--to fill the shopping carts of the others." (p. 137.)
So there's nothing wrong with the writing.* But part of the problem, at least with this book, is my uneasy feeling that she's just as big a slave to the market economy as the rest of us: this collection feels hastily stapled together, in my opinion. The essays are just kind of jammed in here, from minimum wages to illegal immigrants to Wal-Mart to health care. I think part of the problem may be that publishers and readers are expecting everyone, even nonfiction authors, to crank out one or two books a year, a la James Patterson (although he exceeds expectations by farming his writing out and offering three to four craptacular money-making wastes of paper and ink annually, the greedy fucker).
So yeah, it was all right. But I just don't need a book a year from Ehrenreich.**
*For the record, Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus is a very similar, and much better, book about polarized American society.
**My favorite Ehrenreich Anecdote is when my mother shocked the hell out of me by telling me, out of nowhere, that "that Nickel and Dimed book was pretty good." This from the woman who, when I once quoted something from Harper's Magazine, asked me if I was reading "THAT Communist rag!" now. Hmm.