Discretionary Spending, CR-style.
25 September 2021
Disclaimer: I have probably never done enough charitable giving.*
Disclaimer Explainer: This is largely for two reasons: 1. We don't have a lot of spare cash. Mr. CR and I are united in our desire to cover our own bills and to help the CRjrs cover theirs, and that pretty much takes what we earn. 2. When we go out to eat or do anything a service worker helps us with, I am such a ridiculously good tipper (like Mr. CR used to see what I was giving and ask things like, do you know what percentage that is? Yes, I do, that's the idea.) that for a long time I viewed that as part of my annual charitable giving.
I am also addicted to sending fruit and treat baskets to people who might need a bit of a boost. In short, my charitable giving is a lot like the rest of my personality: I favor individuals over the organization. (And I am too dumb to try and maximize any charitable giving tax deductions.) I laugh when my alma mater sends me letters asking for money. (Pro tip, UW-Madison: Don't bother asking people who majored in journalism and library science for money...WE DON'T HAVE ANY.) Ditto with my church, although I will give money and goods to religious organizations like the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Just recently my church hit up its members for $3 million to add some sort of fancy gathering space on to its church, and I proudly marked the "I do not plan to donate at this time" on my form. If they had asked me to kick in to put money toward their workers' salaries and health insurance premiums, on the other hand, I would have done that.
This gets around to nonfiction, I promise. Periodically I email with my favorite nonfiction author, Stacy Horn, and I know that she has told me in the past that the passing of the Affordable Care Act enabled her to afford health insurance for the first time. I was appalled to hear that. (I wasn't surprised, having been self-employed for the majority of my life, but I was still appalled.) Then this year I interviewed another great author, Brian Alexander, with the hopes of maybe writing some kind of article about how nonfiction authors work. And he also told me he went without health insurance for his entire working life until the Affordable Care Act passed.**
Something about hearing this from two of the most talented and hard-working nonfiction authors I've ever read really, REALLY bothered me. I mean, these are people at the top of the "working nonfiction author" heap. Horn has published numerous well-reviewed and popular titles, and Alexander has done the same, while also working as a writer for The Atlantic and other extremely-hard-to-get-into publications. If these people at the top of their writing field can barely afford health insurance, even with legislation designed to make it easier to get, well, holy shit. It is hard to make a living writing.
This led me to rethink my own spending habits. Yes, I should give some more money to worthy causes. And you know what's worthy to me? Authors. People who write books. People who do good journalism that contributes to my understanding of the world.
I'm still going to tip well. But I have also started buying more books (from bookshop.org--fuck you, Amazon) either to read and to keep, or to read and pass along. I am also starting to subscribe to more magazines. Kids, the print word is dying. People like Horn and Alexander, who are willing to spend years researching and fact-checking their actual books, are struggling with poor sales. THIS IS NOT RIGHT.
So this is my ask for you for this holiday season and beyond: Turn off the Internet. Influencers don't need your cash and all that time you spend on Twitter (and Jesus it's addicting, I'm on it more just lately and it takes time) is taking away from the time you read actual books. Buy a new book for yourself. Buy new books for friends. Subscribe to magazines for any young nieces or nephews or friends you might have, or subscribe to some for yourself (just recently I have subscribed to both the Threepenny Review and Orion magazine and I have been pleasantly surprised with how exciting it is to get them and how reassuring it is to read quality writing after reading a lot of so-so writing on the Internet). When possible, shop through bookshop.org or go directly to the author's website if they sell their own books. Last week I bought a book of essays from Michael Perry's site, and it arrived signed and has been a wonderfully calming read.
Need suggestions for any readers you love? Comment or shoot me an email (see "Contact," above) and I'll talk through some gift options with you based on what sort of reader you're shopping for. Also, I've updated the "Favorite Authors" list over at the right--buying books from any of those authors will be money well spent.
None of the world makes sense to me anymore, except actual physical books. If I can help it they won't completely disappear on my watch. Join me in this quest, won't you?***
*My original title for this post was "Charitable Giving." I changed it, because buying books for myself and friends is not really giving to charity, and my support for great authors is not done out of charity, but rather because they provide a great product for the money. I didn't mean to be insulting. It's just that me and Mr. CR tend to be very cheap, so I tend to look on any "fun" spending we do as money I'm spending as much to help the seller as to help myself. How cheap are we? Here's a little story: Once Mr. CR looked at me and said, "Are you not wearing a bra?" And I said, "Not right now, it's in the wash." He suggested I treat myself and buy that second bra someday. I'll get around to it one of these days.
**Brian Alexander dedicated his new book The Hospital to his brother, who kept putting off going to the doctor until he could get on Medicare and get covered. And do you know what happened to his brother? He died of a heart attack months before he got on Medicare. And you're telling me we live in a civilized country? What the actual fuck is going on.
***Also please consider tipping your service providers--waitstaff, Uber drivers, food delivery drivers, anyone who works in the "gig economy"--very, very well. Thank you.