Friday articles: Delicious, delicious.
Basement Reading: Letters to Malcolm

Why? Why can't I stop reading "frugal living" books?

The latest one I read was so bad it brought to mind one of my favorite quotes from a television show: "It's like watching a car crash. Into puppies."*

Yet another frugal living book I didn't enjoy and didn't learn anything from (but yet read all the way through) was Natalie P. McNeal's The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life. It's basically McNeal's year-long diary, which was also posted at, of trying to get out of debt and live more frugally. And when I say diary, I mean diary: like a lot of blogs-into-books, it reads like it was lifted wholesale from the website without much of an editorial look-over. I hate that.** This was also published by Harlequin, which should have tipped me off. Nothing against Harlequin, or romances (I like romances, actually, the juicier the better), I just don't think it's a publishing concern known for its work with serious nonfiction.

McNeal's voice is pleasant enough, even though she's not saying anything new (p. 85, ah, it's the obligatory latte quote: "Death to the latte! And it's about time. Middle-class Americans are dropping their $4 lattes and brewing coffee at home."), she doesn't actually get out of all her debt in the course of a year, and she really does, as far as I can tell, give up a lot of the "fabulous life"--for instance, she has to stop traveling as much with her friends. (A lot of her "buy nothing" frugal strategy also seems to be to go along with her friends buying her drinks and dinners out--not a bad strategy, but one you have to be pretty damn charming to pull off.) She does talk at length about her job as a reporter for the Miami Herald, and the downsizing in the newspaper business, which I found interesting (if sad), and I must say I finished the book without rancor, wishing her luck in her freelance career. But all in all? A pretty forgettable read:

"February 3. I had a love affair with George this morning. George Foreman, that is. It's Sunday and I had to work today, so George and I grilled some chicken breasts. I packed the chicken, some salad and an apple in a bag.*** I like this cooking healthy stuff, but it sure isn't as filling as eating out." (p. 20.)

So why? WHY can't I stop reading these frugal books? I rarely find them helpful, and they're now actively starting to annoy me, as I'm finding it increasingly naive to think we're all going to "frugal" the country back into shape--as if not buying as many meals out is going to put a dent in our personal debt (or our national spending, much of which is disappearing into the money pit that is our "defense" and military spending. For some reason these books are like candy to me****, but much like candy, I think it's probably time to give them up.

*Oh, the short-lived CBC series "An American in Canada," we hardly got to know ye.

**I like blogs, and I like books. I like them for different reasons. This is not to say a good blog can't make a good book, but come on, people, tidy up your writing a little bit when publishing it in book form.

***I think she needs the serial comma here too.

****I ate so much candy this weekend it was obscene.