September 10, 2017

Review: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn't quite sure what to write about this book. I liked it; I thought it was relatively well written, for a newbie author; I appreciated what she had to say about being poor in America; but I wondered at the defensive tone seeping into much of the book.

Then I read some of the reviews on Goodreads, and I understood where that defensiveness came from.

To put it bluntly, many of the reviews here (the one-star ones in particular) have nothing to do with the merits--or lack thereof--of the book, and everything to do with the supposed shortcomings of the author. Sanctimonious, patronizing, name it. (To be fair, this site is not unique; the same kind of sneering it's-all-their-own-fault attitude can be found in the comments section of every article about poor people I've ever read.) I'm not going to mention anyone in particular; you know who you are. I would like to ask, though, just why you think demonizing, and dehumanizing, poor people is a good thing. Especially when a few bad breaks could land you, me, or any of us in Linda Tirado's situation.

Yes, she smokes, or she did when she wrote this. So what? She explains her reasons for doing so; I may not agree with them, but I have no business condemning her until I've walked a mile in her shoes, and neither do you. You think she has a bad attitude? I would too, if I were surrounded by people eager to bash me for something I had little to no control over. To paraphrase Darth Vader, I find your lack of empathy disturbing.

What I think her book clearly illustrates is that for many Americans, the so-called American dream doesn't exist any more, if it ever did. In today's unequal society, where a minimum-wage job doesn't even mean survival, much less living, you simply cannot pull yourself up by your Magical Bootstraps. You need help, and a lot of it. And it behooves me, as well as everyone else who has been luckier (and more privileged) than others, to provide that help.

You hang in there, Linda. Your book has revealed some ugly strains running through the fabric of America, and I apologize for that.

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