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Students, workers can relate to book

“Nickel and Dimed” addresses poverty and chronicles life on a low-wage income.
Tuesday, June 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:51 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Book jacket photos of author Barbara Ehrenreich in a waitress uniform cover the entrance display shelf at University Bookstore. The image is about to become a familiar one in Columbia.

Ehrenreich’s book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” has been selected as the 2004 pick for the One Read program sponsored by the Daniel Boone Regional Library. It also will be part of the summer reading programs for incoming freshmen at MU and Stephens College, said Kris Farris, public relations coordinator of the Daniel Boone Regional Library.

In its third year, One Read is designed to bring together members of the community through reading a book and meeting to talk about the issues that arise.

“The idea is to get as many people in the community as possible to read one book,” Farris said.

Melissa Carr, director of the Daniel Boone Regional Library, said “Nickel and Dimed” was chosen by popular vote over two other finalists. The two other books in contention were “Life of Pi,” by Yann Martel and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” by Mark Haddon.

Of the 355 community members who voted, 57 percent chose “Nickel and Dimed.” Last year’s pick was “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee.

Carr said the community made a good choice this year because “Nickel and Dimed” touches on a variety of important topics for public discussion. The book details Ehrenreich’s journalistic endeavor of taking on several poverty-level-wage jobs in 1998, working as a waitress, a cleaning woman and a Wal-Mart sales clerk.

Ehrenreich discovered that living on low-wage income is nearly impossible without the aid of a second job. The book also chronicles the mental and physical strain of performing “unskilled” labor.

Eric Duermeyer, store manager at 9th Street Bookstore, is a member of the One Read task force that’s planning events to go along with “Nickel and Dimed.”

“There’s definitely a lot to talk about in the book,” Duermeyer said. “There’s issues of social class. There are always a lot of people in Columbia who are looking for jobs. There’s also a huge population of students who are looking for part-time work. There’s pretty much something in there for everybody.”

Some of the issues in the book sparked controversy when the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill chose the book for a summer reading program last year. But Michelle Froese, spokeswoman for University Bookstore, said much of that criticism came from perceptions about MU’s intentions in choosing the book.

“It wasn’t chosen (by MU) with a liberal agenda; it was chosen because it was more accessible to a wide range of people,” Froese said. “The goal is to try to get a book that is easily accessible that exposes students to topics they might not have much experience in.”

One Read events begin in September, and Farris said having MU and Stephens College involved would allow more people to take part in book discussions and other events.

Incoming freshmen at MU will be encouraged, but not required, to read “Nickel and Dimed” when they arrive for Summer Welcome. Then in the fall, students will have the opportunity to break into small discussion groups.

“One of the goals is to get students talking about civic issues of importance,” Froese said. “Ideally it will develop a dialogue evaluating the issues discussed in the book.”


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