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Archive for May, 2006

Buried in books

Besides being behind on The New Yorker, I’m in the middle of reading four books and not making much headway with any of them. The first is a great novel called Shantaram. I put in on the back burner because, although it’s a thick book, I’m enjoying it so much I don’t want it to end. The other three are nonfiction: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, by Daniel Dennett, The End of Faith, by Mark Harris and Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax. I also picked up The Best Science Writing of 2005 when I was at the library last.

Dennet’s book is great and I like his writing, but it’s getting more difficult as I get further into it. He does try to make it easier by including at the end of each chapter a brief synopsis of what the chapter was about as well as a preview of the next chapter.

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"Nickel and Dimed"

I just finished “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich. It was an easy and illuminating read. Her experiences as a low-wage earner in several different states in the Union were not a surprise to me – I’ve been a waitress and a retail worker and even did a (very) short stint cleaning offices.  I know the bullying, mid-level manager types, the arrogant ‘big bosses’, the troublesome customer, the snide or gossipy co-worker and even the ‘in-trouble’ or ‘just not making it’ co-worker.  But doing those jobs when you are young and unencumbered is one thing. It gives you a certain amount of freedom and if you’re lucky you can get by without medical or dental insurance when you’re young. But being tied to the job or being more and more marginalized because the job doesn’t pay enough to cover food, rent and childcare, getting by without health insurance for God’s sake, it’s barbaric!

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Jhumpa Lahiri

I just read the Jhumpa Lahiri story (“Once in a Lifetime”) in the May 8th New Yorker. It was a bit like her novel, “The Namesake” in that it portrayed an Indian family transplanted to Cambridge, Massachusetts and the society of fellow-expatriots that they join. As in the novel, the family moves out to a generic Boston suburb and the children experience a very Americanized upbringing, except for being dragged off to visit India every now and then. I was trying to decide why I dislike her writing, and maybe, I’m sorry to say, it is because what she writes about isn’t exotic enough and what she describes in such numbing detail is my own childhood – the orange and brown decorating scheme, the Christmas cards taped up around the door, the inane TV shows, like ‘Gilligan’s Island’, the homogeneous school system where everyone strives to conform. Anyway, this story at least had a center, the very well realized young girl narrator, which was lacking in “The Namesake” and that makes a huge difference.

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