Category Archives: inequality

The Financial Diaries by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider

image1 (15)The Financial Diaries details a study conducted by a research team directed by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider that investigates how families receive and spend income within a single year. I picked this up per the suggestion of a colleague that it would be helpful background reading for a project I’m embarking upon soon and I’m so happy that I did.

This book dives into the fact that we typically think of and analyze income in a way that is not compatible with how most families interact with money on a regular basis. Their study uncovers many essential pieces of family spending that we are missing when we think about income in more traditional ways.

When we think about a family’s annual income, we are often missing the spikes and dips of income that occur for families with inconsistent, and even sometimes, consistent income. For example, receiving a large tax refund might make a family’s income spike in a predictable way that they count on, through putting off paying certain debts or making large purchases until they receive their refund check. Families with inconsistent income, such as those with work that is seasonally influenced or is related to regional events, often have to plan ahead and put large chunks of their money aside to cushion their income during months where their paycheck is lighter. There are many reasons why this is difficult for families to surmount and this book does an excellent job of portraying these spending realities.

My big takeaway from this book is that (somewhat obviously, but something I hadn’t been able to articulately describe before) a lot of families are “sometimes poor.” The idea here is that families who appear to have middle income and possess the assets to be “stable” when you look at their family’s annual income actually have moments of being sometimes poor, where their income is dramatically lower than it is at other times of the year. Families confront this by trying to prepare for these dips in income, but also devote a lot of their income spikes to paying for purchases that were necessary during income dips. For these families, it becomes almost impossible to save for the future when they’re constantly catching up.

This was a very nuanced, necessary reframing of spending and saving within American families. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of income instability in America.

Publication Date: 4 April 2017 by Princeton University PressFormat: Hardcover.

Authors: Jonathan Morduch web & Rachel Schneider @twitter

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Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

leaninAfter learning that I would be dashing to Silicon Valley for the summer, I snatched up Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (and co-writer Nell Scovell) to get a taste of her experience being one of the most powerful people at one of the most powerful companies in the area (she’s the Chief Operation Officer at Facebook).

Lean In is a slight combination of memoir, self help, and description of Silicon Valley. The parts I enjoyed most about the book revolved around Sandberg’s weaving in research findings about the workplace with real anecdotes. As a woman currently in tech, who often doubts herself (hello imposter syndrome, my old friend), reading about these studies were empowering. Many of the studies showed how women repeatedly disadvantage themselves by their mistaken beliefs about their own contributions (aka not believing that your contributions are worthy of a seat at the table) and their colleague’s incorrect beliefs (based on stigma, bias, etc.).

While I did enjoy most of the book, there were some caveats, most of which Sandberg highlights herself. A lot of her advice is specific to women who are 1)  partnered to supportive humans who empower them and share household responsibilities, 2) make an amount of money at their occupations that exceeds the costs of childcare, and 3) are well educated. This book is rooted in an ideology of “this is how I did it and you can too!” which is fundamentally false for many women who are or have been in the “workforce.” While Sandberg easily ties her success to her individual situation, that situation does not apply to everyone and there are many ways to get to a similar position to Sandberg’s other than her exact path described within the book.

All in all, I learned a bit, felt empowered, and wanted to send a hearty thanks to all of the powerful women in my life who have lifted me up in so many ways, all whilst encouraging me to do the same one day. That said, I was very much the target audience for a book like this and I could imagine it not being received as well by other readers.

Publication Date: 11 March 2013 by KnopfFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Sheryl Sandberg Lean In Organization/facebook/instagram

Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

IMG_8788A lovely friend mailed me this book when she found out that I would be moving to and working in Silicon Valley — and Brotopia (justifiably) terrified me. Emily Chang, a journalist and newscaster for Bloomberg, dives into the murky waters that is the oft-times described “boys’ clubs” of Silicon Valley. Chang brilliantly uses her connections as a reporter to land interviews (both on the record and off) with lots of powerful people within Silicon Valley. The author presents a history of Silicon Valley and the many ways that sexism and misogyny have been steeped into its being since its creation. By weaving together research, articles, and interviews with those involved, the reader will feel better able to understand the reality of the tech industry’s home. Not only does Chang deftly describe the history and current state of Silicon Valley (including its e(xc)lusive sex parties), she offers solutions for change, based on research and her impressions as someone who has been thoroughly immersed in exploring these issues for years. While pieces of Brotopia left me feeling disheartened, Chang’s final tone made me feel hopeful for change. 

This was an essential read for me, coming into Silicon Valley without knowing much about its roots, and also motivated me to prepare myself with resources and knowledge that would hopefully help me succeed in this environment. The book is accessible, well researched, and offers actionable suggestions for change. If you’re interested in understanding the context of Silicon Valley, I absolutely recommend this book. 

Publication Date: 6 February 2018 by PortfolioFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Emily Chang @twitter/web/TV show/Bloomberg

I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux

image1 (9)I really thought I was going to go through all of 2018 only reading books written by women, but Michael Arcenaux’s debut I Can’t Date Jesus sounded too intriguing to ignore. Despite not reading any of Arceneaux’s work before, I really enjoyed reading his memoir essays. He’s a big shot in the journalism world, particularly known for writing from the gay and black POV, but you don’t need to know his previous work to dive into this! Arceneaux brilliantly writes about the tensions between his family, religion, sexuality, professional goals, Beyoncé, and beyond. I dug all of the Texas references (some of my favorites were deep cuts that people outside of Texas might not understand… but people read that kind of stuff all of the time about NYC, so don’t let that dissuade you) and enjoyed reading about his reflections upon how his experiences, both during youth and more recently, have greatly shaped the man Arceneaux is today.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Atria Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Atria Books or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 24 July 2018 by Atria BooksFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Michael Arceneaux web/@twitter/@instagram

Mini Review: You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

youcanttouchmyhairIf you’re not familiar with Phoebe Robinson yet, she’s a comedian and hilarious person who is one of 2 Dope Queens, Black Daria (Blaria), and as she refers to herself in this book, a cross between Miss J from America’s Next Top Model with a dash of Ta-Nahesi Coates. A lot of Robinson’s essays spend time discussing black hair, her own historically, and through memorable pop culture moments. The Not So Guilty Pleasures section of the book had the most laughs from me, along with her repeated references to some of the nonsense of Carrie Bradshaw and Sex and the City, whilst loving the show and constantly making fun of it simultaneously. I listened to You Can’t Touch My Hair as an audiobook, which was very entertaining because Robinson is great at using her voice to tell a good story; I’m not sure her written words would have jumped off the page in the same way her voice jumped through my ears and mind.

Here’s a lil’ snippet from the book, regarding Robinson wanting to f*ck Bono from U2.

“I have issues. We all have issues. We’re all like a year subscription to Vogue magazine. We’ve got twelve issues each. It’s fine.”

Publication Date: 4 October 2016 by Plume Books. Format: Audiobook.

Author: Phoebe Robinson web/@twitter/@instagram/facebook

 

Educated by Tara Westover

educatedThis memoir had an effect on me and I want to recommend it to everyone. Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir about family obligations, systems of control, and the power of education. It was a hard, but good read. 

Westover grew up in a strict, Mormon household in rural middle America with parents who had their own interpretation of Mormonism that they proselytized to their children and used to condemn others’ interpretations of divine faith, including other Mormons. The parents did not trust the government, which extended to not birthing most of their children in hospitals because they were part of the evil “medical establishment”,  not legally recording most of their children’s births until many years later, not immunizing their children or permitting them to visit doctors for care in favor of homeopathy, and not enrolling their children in schools for fear the schools would brainwash their children with nonsense. The denial of all of these things to their children, particularly access to an education as the children weren’t really schooled at home either, was a way to indoctrinate the children into the parents’ belief system, bound the children to their parents’ sphere of control so that the children may never leave, and limit the children from access to other ways of thinking that would allow the children to be able to question their family’s way of life. 

Westover’s tale highlights how important access to an education is as she details the life circumstances of her siblings — those who managed to be admitted to college, after secretly studying for standardized testing, went on to receive doctorates, whereas the others never received high school diplomas or GEDs and subsequently had limited job options and continued to be employees of their parents’ businesses as they had been since they were children. The memoir is broken into three parts, beginning with Westover’s childhood, transitioning into Westover’s teen years when she enrolls in an undergraduate program, and the last pieces include her venturing to another part of the world for education purposes and having her worldview expanded even more than her undergraduate experiences initially opened. While education definitely plays a central role in this memoir, a large part of Westover’s story involves controlling family dynamics, the emotional abuse that often rains down from the controlling heads of household, unfettered physical abuse that family members conveniently ignore or outright deny because acknowledgement of its actuality could challenge their pleasant forms of reality, and outright misogyny about a women’s place in the family and in the world that is shielded from question by religious morales. 

While Westover’s education granted her access to many things, it also created many conflicts with her family and led to estrangements from certain members. Becoming “educated” isn’t always cost-free and Westover’s story illuminates some of the challenges that can be associated with advancing oneself, whilst one’s family tries to hold them back. This was a book that I needed to read and I hope that it is enlightening for others. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Random House via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Random House or NetGalley.

 

Publication Date: 20 Feburary 2018 by Random HouseFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Tara Westover web/facebook/@twitter

Hunger by Roxane Gay

hungerLike much of the literary world, I am obsessed with Roxane Gay and I LOVED her collection of essays that blended memoir, popular culture, and commentary on society, Bad FeministHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body dives more deeply into some of the pieces of Gay’s story that she alluded to within Bad Feminist.

The composition of this collection was different than a memoir I’ve read before: the chapters vary in length, some only a page long, as if they’re all of the thoughts Gay had while conceiving this book, some jotted in the notes app on her phone so as not to forget and then left in their brief form. Other short pieces signify emotions that simply have too much underneath them to be explored further.

This book is heavy and you should take your time with reading it and give yourself the space to unpack the things that have happened and persisted in Gay’s life. Her story will likely make you reflect upon your own life stories and you should give yourself the time to do so. Within Hunger, Gay details her trauma associated with a gang rape, which had been lightly brushed upon in Bad Feminist, how fat bodies often have trauma and stories underneath that people dismiss or assume the bodies are just in poor health out of choice, her challenges with romantic and sexual relationships post-trauma, with her body, and with her geographic location, and the ways that people assume large bodies are always indicative of poor health.

Hunger forced me to challenge some assumptions I didn’t even know I had about how people move through the world and some of the things people who are large are forced to consider that I simply take for granted (i.e., will the chairs at this restaurant be compatible and provide necessary support to my body?). While Hunger definitely made me aware of things I had previously been oblivious to, it’s also important to remember that the book is an account of one person’s experiences with a large, fat body and it shouldn’t be taken as how everyone with these bodies feels or what they want, an important point that Gay emphasizes throughout her work.

Speaking of her work, I haven’t read any of Gay’s fiction pieces yet, but maybe I should add Difficult Women to my 2018 reading list? Hunger makes me want to be a Roxane Gay completionist, something that I feel like is rarer and rarer for me to even consider pursuing while staring at my ever mounting To Read pile, but Gay’s writing encourages me to do so. If you haven’t read one of her works yet, pick up Hunger or Bad Feminist the next time you see them at a store or your local library!

As an aside, this anecdote is tangentially related to the book Hunger, but I’m going to share anyway. Last year, I was inspired by the podcast The Cooler to start a “long-distance book club” with a bestie. The idea revolves around you reading a book on your own, underlining your favorite bits that resonate with you, and then passing along the book to a friend who can reflect on your bits, add their own bits, and give you specific things to talk about when you catch up on the phone since sometimes long distance besties can get in the rut of not really talking about their lives. While I do this with my faraway friends, I also do it with two of my nearby friends wherein we read the book back-to-back and then have a coffee/beer date where we talk about the book, like a two person book club where you only have to buy one copy of the book. There’s something so intimate in seeing what lines specifically connect with a friend and it can be very revealing, especially with a book like Hunger. My friend and I shared Hunger and it ended up being a nice way to talk about very sensitive and personal topics without having to put all of the cards on the table. I do this with a lot of books, but the experience of sharing Hunger will always be a poignant memory for me.