April, 2006 Archives

the second book

April 23rd, 2006

Book: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Recommeneded: Yes, definitely.

I moved on to a shorter, simpler book that I was able to read in less than a week. In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich “goes undercover” as a low-wage worker. In addition to the introduction and evaluation (conclusion), the book is divided into three sections: Serving in Florida, Scrubbing in Maine, and Selling in Minnesota.

She set up limits that included having a car, not going hungry, and never living on the streets. She admits that her experiment began with a best-case scenario to find out what it’s like to live on low wages, and even takes the highest paying job she can find that requires no education and is considered “unskilled”.

Although I’ve worked a few “unskilled” jobs and consider myself to have a fairly realistic perception of what low-wage earners have to go through, her experiences were eye-opening and definitely worth reading about. I know what it’s like to be treated as a substandard human being by restaurant management, and I’ve struggled more with my lowest-paying jobs than I ever did with the highest, but I’ve never had to clean someone else’s toilets or floors, and at the end of the day I knew that I wouldn’t be doing that sort of thing for the rest of my life.

Although she does write about the “technical” aspects of her experiment–like how much she makes and what she has to spend and how she comes out financially in the end–the main focus is on the people she meets and works with at her various jobs.

It’s a book worth reading and a subject worth considering, and even worth giving a whole lot of thought to. I can’t adequately summarize all the jobs and people, but the book is short, well-written, and very easy to read, so I’d recommend it to anyone.

One thing (of many things) that really struck me was when, on her last day working for a maid company, she asks her co-workers how they feel about the company’s owners who have so much while they have so little. One of their replies was:

“I don’t mind, really, because I guess I’m a simple person, and I don’t want what they have. I mean, it’s nothing to me. But what I would like is to be able to take a day off now and then…if I had to…and still be able to buy groceries the next day.”


our first tree

April 23rd, 2006

I’m completely amazed that in less than 2 weeks this:

…can turn into this:

I’m not even sure which branch is which; it’s basically unrecognizable.

This is what happened in the middle:

earth day

April 21st, 2006

Earth Day festivities took place today at the college where I work. I signed a card to encourage Apple to provide free recycling for their old computers and listened to a little speech about Green Mountain Engery. Then I admired a Hybrid car and started hoping for the demise of my decade-old Saturn.

The event was planned, organized, and run by students, and I was impressed by their passion for the environment and for making the world a better, cleaner place. They wanted to talk to anyone willing to listen.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve cared about environmental issues and wanted to do my part to help. When I was in the 4th or 5th grade, I decided I wanted to walk to school on Earth Day instead of taking the bus. I realize now that this was mostly unnecessary since the bus techincally counts as public transportation, but at the time it was really important to me. My parents explained that it was a long walk and we’d have to wake up early, but I wasn’t deterred. The school bus passed my Dad and me as we made the 45-minute walk, but I felt that my symbolic (and physically-intensive) act was an important contribution to Earth Day 1990.

When I was 12 the question may have been “why do I care so much?” But now that I’m 27 the question is “why don’t other people care more?” It makes me angry to see people leave trash on the ground. I hate throwing away a soda can at the house of people who don’t recycle. It makes me sad to walk through a parking lot where a ridiculous majority of the vehicles are taller than me, waste huge amounts of oil, and destroy the planet just so they have extra space and can see over the cars of the people whose lives they are risking for the sake of their own.

I don’t understand why other people don’t care–at least, not as much as I do. Why doesn’t it bother them that we live in a dirty world that’s getting worse with every mile driven and every piece of trash dropped and every little thing sent to a landfill that could be remade into a new product? Why can’t they take the extra few minutes to recycle? Why won’t they buy the compact flourescent light bulbs that save insane amounts of electricity? Why aren’t they concerned about global warming’s effect on them and on their children and especially on their children’s children? Why are the people who really care and really try to make a difference a small minority? What about everyone else?

And then the one that really gets me: How can Christians believe in a Creator who made all of the earth and everything in it, and then not bother to take care of it? If America is such a Christian country, why is it such a wasteful and resource-hogging place?

I understand how other people aren’t interested in reading, or photography, or other things I’m interested in. But I can’t understand why they aren’t interested in doing anything and everything they can to take care of the earth.

I just don’t get it.

Book: God’s Politics by Jim Wallis
Recommended: Yes (but be prepared to take a lot in at once)

I kicked off my newfound reading habit with God’s Politics. It was probably not the best book to start with (especially over the Christmas holidays); it’s kind of a large book and reads very much like the non-fiction that it is, and it took me 2 months to get through it. It covered general faith-related-to-politics kinds of stuff as well as more specific issues like poverty, the Middle East conflicts, war, terrorism, current administration policies, peace, Biblical prophets, race, and other current situations.

Despite its length and copious information, it was worth the read and very interesting. It was nice to read something on the topic of politics that actually took a scriptural/biblical perspective, rather than the usual “this is what I want to believe so I’ll find something to back it up” that most books and magazines lean heavily toward.

Since I finished reading it about 2 months ago, the details are a little fuzzy, but one part stands out in my mind somehow. He writes about giving speeches to groups and asking what the Bible says about the poor. And he said that each and every time he asked this question, at least one person yelled out “The poor you will always have with you!” Every single time. Lots of times.

I think that says a lot. A lot about our attitudes and a lot about missing the point entirely (and missing the countless other scriptures about helping and having compassion for the poor, not to mention that ones that say there shouldn’t be any poor people among us). And a lot about how we focus on what we want to hear, what we want to believe, what is easiest to deal with.

As I read, I found myself sometimes frustrated and frequently saddened. With so many serious problems in the world, who really wants to spend their free time reading about them? But I did, and I found it worthwhile, and I think I grew a little bit in some ways.

I think that’s what I look for in a book.


April 7th, 2006

So I’ve finally started reading again.

I spent much of my life reading, until I graduated from college and couldn’t bear to pick up a book that wasn’t geared for kids or at least fairly short and/or easy to read. As an English major, I spent hours every night reading and when I got the diploma my brain said no more books. But it’s been 4 years and college seems like long ago enough to start the reading again. (It actually feels like a dream I had that I can’t quite remember, but that’s something else entirely.)

I find that my tastes have changed and I’m usually more interested in non-fiction than fiction (unless we’re talking Harry Potter or such). I started reading at Christmastime and haven’t really stopped since. I’d forgotten how much I loved to read, and how I can barely put a book down once I’ve started it. Now I have a great reading chair and easy access to a library that doesn’t charge overdue fines. Now I have much more time and a clearer mind than I ever had while I was in college. Now I can read lots.

So I’ve finally started reading again.