Friday, March 09, 2007

Not Your Usual Personal Finance Books

I have been working like crazy lately trying to finish some big projects, and I rarely seem to leave the office before 7 or 8 pm. And last night I was particularly annoyed about it as I had to miss a reading by William T. Vollman, from his new book Poor People.
I have never read anything by Vollman-- frankly, from what I'd heard about his novels, they sounded a bit heavy for me. But this new book is non-fiction: Vollman traveled around America and the world, asking people the question "why are you poor?" The starred review in Booklist calls it

...a bracing mix of risky oral history, passionate social observation, and bold interpretation that illuminates not only the obvious deprivations suffered by poor people but also the impoverishment of their inner lives.
I'm interested to read this, just because of the way he posed the question so directly. That in itself seems like an unusual approach-- people study poverty and wealth and do surveys which lead them to conclusions about how people get to where they are, but it seems very rare to ask people "why are you poor," or for that matter "why are you rich?" I wish I'd been able to go to the reading and hear what he had to say about the book, and what kind of questions people asked him.

Another book I've been meaning to write about is Memorial, by Bruce Wagner. I read this a couple of months ago-- it's a great book, and money issues are very much woven into the plot. I like Wagner's novels-- he's very name-droppy and harsh, but the satire is dead-on. From a review by Kurt Anderson in Publisher's Weekly:
The main characters are the members of an ordinary middle-class family—Joan, her feckless older brother, their sweet mother and sweet runaway father. Three of the four are spectacularly victimized, but every one is also the recipient of a financial windfall, and achieves redemption—which amounts either to slightly overdetermined coincidence, or karma.
So if you are tired of reading the typical personal finance how-to books and want something that makes you think about money matters a bit differently, these might be two books worth trying.


Charles said...

Interesting that you're talking about why people are poor, I've been thinking about consumer debt given the release of the movie "Maxed Out" and asking myself why are people in so much debt and the obvious answer is we're spending too much, so it begged the question about people and "why buy?" I've been exploring the motivations for why we so enjoy buying things. I've started posting at my blog "Car(bon) free in California" --

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog, so I am working through your archives. You're so inspiring! I wish I had the discipline and motivation that you have. Hopefully I will pick up some good habits here :)