10 March 2010

"Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream" by

Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard

Genre: part stunt memoir, part inspirational book
On my TBR list?: yes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I enjoy a good stunt memoir, so I was looking forward to reading this book. The premise sounded intriguing: a recent college graduate hits the road with $25, a sleeping bag, and a change of clothes to see if he can work his way up to a job, a savings account, and an apartment at the end of a year. I thought I would learn something new about the struggles of the working poor, but I was wrong.

There is nothing revolutionary about this book. The author stayed close to his hometown of Raleigh, NC because both of his parents were ill and he wanted to be able to get back to them quickly. That is admirable, but the "search" in the title made me imagine that Shepard went on a cross-country jaunt checking out the minimum-wage lifestyle in different areas. Instead, he took the train to Charleston and stayed there. This is more of a story about getting on your feet after college without your parents' help. He wasn't weighed down with two kids or a drug addiction or both. Since he knew he only had to pretend to be uneducated and down-and-out for a year, Shepard had the willpower to deprive himself of a lot of tiny luxuries like cable TV and trips to McDonald's. Yes, he stayed in a shelter for a while but he made it sound like a sleepaway camp.

After reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed (a book that incensed Shepard), this book sounds trite and PollyAnna-ish. Shepard's view is that the right attitude will take you anywhere you want to go. That may be true, but he writes as if he is the first person to discover that. The best compliment I can give this book is that it isn't weighed down by a lot of statistics, so you could possibly hand this to a recent high-school graduate as an inspirational book. However, even an 18-year-old knows people who have pulled themselves out of rougher circumstances that what were portrayed in this book.

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Kristen said...

I generally like stunt memoirs but this one sounds disappointing. I do think there's a big problem with books like this written by people who really do have a safety net beneath them. It's just so inauthentic somehow. Know what I mean?

Dani in NC said...

Exactly! Shepard kept saying things like, "Our privileged clients acted like they were better than guys like us." In my mind, I don't think he could really lump himself in with his coworkers who dropped out of high school or had prison records. I'm not saying that he was superior to them, but it felt like he was claiming an experience that he didn't really have. He was just visiting.

Stephanie said...

I'm glad I read your review of it. I love stunt memoirs and I would've definitely picked this up and been disappointed in it, had I come across it.