I read this book to see if it would work for the One Book, One Campus project I am working on. It is an interesting book, with Ehrenreich going undercover in various jobs--waitressing, a dietary aide in a nursing home, a maid, a Wal-Mart clerk, and seeing if she could live on the wages.
The book brings home how difficult it is to live on $5-6 an hour (especially in terms of housing). Ehrenreich can get a little preachy and repetitive at times (yes, we know that you're a PhD, thanks for reminding us, again), and the whole scene at the Maine tent revival just seems like a pointless indulgence, it adds nothing to the narrative and just makes her come across as petty.
One really great thing about the book is that she is honest about her shortcomings--when she cheats on the budget she's set for herself, on flaws in her personality, especially the section where she's working at Wal-Mart and notices how the person she's becoming, the "Barb" on her nametag, is much different than the "Barbara" she is in real life. It is not a perfect book, it starts off strong and starts to lag in spots, put it is a perfect book for a book club discussion because the conversations about it could go in so many different directions.
A perfect tie-in for any book group would be to read this book, then watch Sullivan's Travels.
Subgenre: Current Events/Social Issues
Location: Key West, Florida; Portland, Maine, and Twin Cities, Minnesota
Cliches: Muckraking journalist goes undercover--living the life of the underprivileged to expose the system's flaws.
Hey, I Guess this is Different: The whole section about the drug tests for her jobs at Wal-Mart and Menards and her travails in trying to pass them--it is a pretty funny section.
Good Plane and/or waiting in line Reading: Yes
Good Enough Reading to Keep You Distracted From Plane Movie: Yes
Will Make You Seem Smart, Hip, or Sensitive at Parties: Yes, but be careful, might also make you seem sanctimonious.
Can read when depressed and/or when winter: Yes--will make you appreciate what you have
If you like, try this better book: Downsize This! by Michael Moore (Moore before he became an annoying caricature)