Sunday, April 19, 2009

Books: Scratch Beginnings

"Scratch Beginnings" is a biography by college graduate Adam Shepard, who conducted an interesting experiment: could he survive for a year in modern America starting off with only $25 and a sleeping bag?

If it sounds familiar, it's because Shepard intended the book as a direct response to Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed." Ehrenreich went "undercover" and pursued a similar series of low-paying jobs, but burned out of each one. She eventually concluded that it was nearly impossible for the working poor to ever better themselves economically.

In contrast, "Scratch Beginnings" adopts an optimistic tone. Shepard's prose is less developed, the experiences more raw, but it's clear he's more game for the experiment than Ehrenreich ever was. He sacrifices all the luxuries, living in a homeless shelter for the first two months and finding work wherever possible. During the course of his trials Shepard meets an incredible cast of people.

Contrary to what you might expect, the book doesn't devolve into an indictment of the poor; it's clear that Shepard respects the enormous obstacles that are faced by people who don't have the benefit of a stable middle or upper class upbringing. Instead, the main point of "Scratch Beginnings" is that there comes a time when someone has to grow up, where they can either keep blaming their past or start preparing for the future.

I don't want to spoil the ending, but I can tell you that after the experiment, Shepard doesn't end up a millionaire, nor does he end up dead in a gutter. After almost a year's worth of hard work and scrupulous saving, he ends up where most of us are - somewhere in that vast middle, searching for the American dream.


At 1:03 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

I have GOT to get a copy of that book. Glenn & Helen interviewed Shephard, and it sounds like a damned interesting piece - and the perfect rebuttal of Ehrenreich's thesis.


Post a Comment

<< Home