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Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America…
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Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America (original 2014; edition 2014)

by Linda Tirado (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3052462,541 (3.72)22
"I've been waiting for this book for a long time. Well, not this book, because I never imagined that the book I was waiting for would be so devastatingly smart and funny, so consistently entertaining and unflinchingly on target. In fact, I would like to have written it myself - if, that is, I had lived Linda Tirado's life and extracted all the hard lessons she has learned. I am the author of Nickel and Dimed, which tells the story of my own brief attempt, as a semi-undercover journalist, to survive on low-wage retail and service jobs. Tirado is the real thing." -from the foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed We in America have certain ideas of what it means to be poor. Linda Tirado, in her signature brutally honest yet personable voice, takes all of these preconceived notions and smashes them to bits. She articulates not only what it is to be working poor in America (yes, you can be poor and live in a house and have a job, even two), but what poverty is truly like-on all levels. In her thought-provoking voice, Tirado discusses how she went from lower-middle class, to sometimes middle class, to poor and everything in between, and in doing so reveals why "poor people don't always behave the way middle-class America thinks they should." --"An examination of what it means to be poor in America today"--… (more)
Member:NicoletteMarie
Title:Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America
Authors:Linda Tirado (Author)
Info:G. P. Putnam's Sons (2014), 224 pages
Collections:Your library
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Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado (2014)

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» See also 22 mentions

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Let's not "bury the lead." Tirado's message is a critically important one — especially in this era. People in every income strata would benefit from the author's pointed insights. But I have two fundamental problems with "Hand to Mouth." The first involves content. The second involves literary tone. Let's start with content. This enlightening and often entertaining book was born after the author posted an essay on a web forum that answered someone's question about why many impoverished people make "self-destructive" decisions. Her pithy post went viral. Publications picked it up. She ultimately decided to turn it into a book. Here's the problem: There's just not quite enough content to justify a book-length manuscript -- even a slim volume. A three-part series of 2,500-word essays? Absolutely. Perhaps even a four-parter? Maybe. But there's a lot of redundancy here — slightly different anecdotes or insights served up to illustrate the same points that were adequately hit in earlier sections (why low-income people smoke, why they can't save, etc.) The second issue is literary tone. I had the distinct feeling throughout the book that there was an undercurrent of hosility and bitterness. I get it. Although I was born in a lower-middle class environment, I'm now grateful to be a financially-stable middle class guy. I've never had to live hand-to-mouth. Still, many of us who are at decent income tiers aren't entitled, nasty, greedy, ungrateful oafs who look down on others. We're good tippers. We try to "connect" with folks in the service sector. We enthusiastically support safety nets. Maybe it's just me, but I sensed a persistent thread of hostility. Tirado admits that she's angry a lot of the time. I give her credit for honesty. But the underlying hostility didn't underscore the message for me. It undermined it. When it comes to writing, Tirado is a skilled storyteller. I just wish she hadn't decided to make the F-word a frequent visitor in the manuscript. Believe me, I'm no prude. I even occasionally use the word. But I think the repeated use diminishes the message. True, the author explained early on that this is how she talks. I'm sure it was included to heighten authenticity. But I stopped counting after the tenth F-bomb. She even ended the tome by thanking many people and then adding: "Four of you can go F*!# yourself." Really? Having said all this, I'm glad I read the book. It's a vivid reminder of the inequities that exist. ( )
1 vote brianinbuffalo | Feb 29, 2020 |
Although it is already dated by the Draconian budget cuts made since 2017, this is still the best book I know that described what working poor people's lives are like. I haven't been poor for some time, but I haven't forgotten the desperate work schedules, the beat up car that is a necessity one prays will not die on the way to or from work and the tough decisions about what to spend my limited resources on. And I was a single male at the time, not a married mother of two. If you think poor people are responsible for their own problems, read this book and then read a more dispassionate economic treatise on why poverty affects so many Americans. And, as Tirado might have written, "and I'm a youngish white woman." Then imagine the predicament of a young black male. ( )
  nmele | Aug 4, 2019 |
A first person account of what it is like to be poor in America and why poor people make bad decisions. As bad as the poverty itself is being treated as if having no money is a crime. (It could be argued that having too much money is a crime). ( )
  jwrudn | Mar 19, 2018 |
Makes you think about what it's like to be poor I only somewhat followed the drama that followed the publication of Tirado's essay on poverty and being poor. She was accused of being fake, of lying, of how her experiences didn't match those of others, etc. But clearly her work hit a nerve with people, being published in several outlets and eventually leading to this book.
 
Her original piece is included in this book and is arguably the best part. The rest of the book is divided into chapters about various issues that face the poor: medical insurance, welfare, sex and reproductive health, the criminalization/punishment of the poor for being poor, etc. Some of it is painful to read. Some of it is just not very well-written, which for me is a constant problem when people try to expand articles/essays for newspapers/magazines for a full-length book.
 
But a lot of it echoes what many go through. The assumption that she is a meth addict. That if she just tried harder, she'd pull herself out of the hole. That she had sex irresponsibly (ie, she is unable to care for her children with little to no income). That she indulges in things like smoking (which she admits is unhealthy, but is one of the few outlets available to her).
 
I can't say I found it to be a page-turning. Sometimes she comes across as whiny and obnoxious (she had access to The Pill, for example, but wasn't consistent in taking it). To her credit, Tirado admits this. She shows how both circumstances and some of her own choices led her to her situation, and there's no way to know that if she had made all the "right" choices she'd be fine.
 
It's food for thought and unfortunately I'll bet a lot of people should read this won't. Definitely recommend reading her essay, which is still available online. ( )
1 vote HoldMyBook | Feb 11, 2018 |
I ran across a reference to this book in an article about why poor Americans remain poor in which the author was quoted. Since my public library had a copy I decided to read it. There was an introduction by the author of Nickel and Dimed.

The book is a very quick read and Tirado's points are based on her own life but I could have done with fewer repetitions of the "f" word. However, she says that that's the way people in her America talk. First we get her definitions (slightly altered) of poverty, poor, etc.:

Poverty is when a quarter is a miracle.
Poor is when a dollar is a miracle.
Broke is when five dollars is a miracle.
Working class is broke living in a place that is not too run-down.
Middle class is when … you can buy your own furniture not lease it …you don't constantly worry about homelessness.
Rich is anything above that.

I guess most of us are rich from her point of view.

She goes on to explain how almost any adverse event can mean losing a job, apartment, all of one's possessions, as a consequence of something that most of us could quickly recover from. So every time a poor person experiences even a minor disaster or even loses work time because of sickness they are back to starting over and never do manage to pull out of the bottom rungs of society.

Tirado is also enraged by the way people who are well to do act superior to people ion low paying service jobs as though they are barely human. Also employers who take advantage because they know the workers can't afford to lose their jobs. And on and on.

While there are some differences of opinion about this book in the LT reviews, the overall rating is high.
  hailelib | Feb 2, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)

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"I've been waiting for this book for a long time. Well, not this book, because I never imagined that the book I was waiting for would be so devastatingly smart and funny, so consistently entertaining and unflinchingly on target. In fact, I would like to have written it myself - if, that is, I had lived Linda Tirado's life and extracted all the hard lessons she has learned. I am the author of Nickel and Dimed, which tells the story of my own brief attempt, as a semi-undercover journalist, to survive on low-wage retail and service jobs. Tirado is the real thing." -from the foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed We in America have certain ideas of what it means to be poor. Linda Tirado, in her signature brutally honest yet personable voice, takes all of these preconceived notions and smashes them to bits. She articulates not only what it is to be working poor in America (yes, you can be poor and live in a house and have a job, even two), but what poverty is truly like-on all levels. In her thought-provoking voice, Tirado discusses how she went from lower-middle class, to sometimes middle class, to poor and everything in between, and in doing so reveals why "poor people don't always behave the way middle-class America thinks they should." --"An examination of what it means to be poor in America today"--

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Linda Tirado knows from experience what it is to be poor, to struggle to make ends meet. She has worked all hours as a food service worker in a chain restaurant to support her young family. She knows what it's like to have problems you wish you could fix, but no money, energy or resources to fix them, and no hope of getting any.

In 2013, Tirado wrote an essay on the everyday realities of poverty that was read and shared around the world. In Hand to Mouth, she gives  a searing, witty and clear-eyed insider account of being poor in the world's richest nation. She looks at how ordinary people get caught in the poverty trap, explains why the poor don't always behave in the way the middle classes think they should, and makes an urgent call for us all to understand and meet the challenges they face.
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