Blog Action Day 2008

As a small contribution to Blog Action Day, this year concerned with the problem of poverty, some notes on books from my library, all three worth the read. Each one, in its own way, puts a personal, human face on the abstraction of poverty.

The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood (1997), by David Simon and Edward Burns
I reviewed this book in 1999. It is a fascinating, horrifying report on the drug culture of today’s inner city, specifically the streets of West Baltimore in 1993. Co-author Simon, creator of TV’s The Wire, got his start as a reporter and his journalism informed the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street). Reading this book was like watching a train wreck. It is a shock to find tender photographic portraits of the key figures at the center of the volume. You know in the bones of your head that it its inevitable that some of these people will die by the end of the book.
The Working Poor: Invisible in America (2004), by David K. Shipler
Shipler casts a wider net, interviewing working class citizens from cities and small towns, from D.C. to Los Angeles, from New Hampshire to North Carolina, who are just scraping by. He focuses on what has succeeded in our efforts to job-train the poor into the mainstream of productive work, and what has failed.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, (1941/1988) by James Agee (text) and Walker Evans (photographs)
The controversial, seminal book, now back in print. A forerunner of the narrator-involved New Journalism. Agee’s expressive, polemical, romantic, rambling prose pictures of the lives of sharecroppers in the rural South during the Depression, as powerful as they are, nevertheless are outdone by Evans’s quietly eloquent photographs. Evans and Agee recognize in these lives of grinding dirt and drudgery a serious dignity.

Blog Action Day