In the current economic recession, it’s easy to get caught up in the daily frustrations of financial challenges. When jobs are scarce and the cost of basic necessities-food, housing, education, healthcare-are rising high above our financial means, the once trivial irritations of an unexpected bill or credit denial can lead to a deep depression. The smallest setbacks become huge obstacles. We feel like we’re failing. We feel broke.
Thankfully, humans are natural storytellers, and in sharing our stories we form a connection of those who have been through similar trials, or those who can offer guidance during them. Whether fiction or non-fiction, these books can help one put the challenges of financial struggle into perspective.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (2005)
The memoir of journalist Jeannette Walls is the story of her nomadic and impoverished upbringing by two parents of questionable sanity. Raised by her father, an intelligent but alcoholic man who rarely held down a job and her mother, an unpredictable woman who called herself an artist, Walls knew poverty in its most dire circumstances. Tired of hunger, and her family’s ramshackle home in Appalachia, she and her siblings each fled to New York City while still teenagers. Walls’ story will remind you that even the most unfortunate poverty can be endured and escaped with strength and perseverance.
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
After a conversation on welfare reform with her editor, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich enters the world of the “working poor” in order to get a sense of what millions of people do every day: work in tedious, exhausting jobs (like waitressing, housekeeping, and retail) for low wages in an attempt to support themselves and their families. The message here is that at some level, the failure is not our own, but with a system that expects employees to live on such meager earnings, and that without change, these circumstances could spread to most of America’s working class.
The Boy Who Harness the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (2009)
When famine struck Malawi, William Kamkwamba and his family each lived on less than one handful of cornmeal a day. Forced to drop out of school because his father could no longer afford the tuition, Kamkwamba taught himself basic physics and how to build a simple motor from out-of-date library books. When his neighbors laughed at his efforts to build a windmill, Kamkwamba built it anyway and succeeded in bringing electricity and water to his village, eventually becoming a 2007 TED Global Fellow and a student at African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
Set during the worldwide economic downturn of The Great Depression, the novel follows the suffering of the Joad family as they travel from their Oklahoma farm, on which they have defaulted on their loans following the destruction of their crops the Dust Bowl, to California, where the pamphlets distributed to people in the plains have promised them high-paying jobs and a better life. The suffering of the Joad family is arduous, and common among so many people during that depression, and yet at the end of the novel, they are still enduring, still fighting. As history tells us, the world did get better, and so it will again, if we can continue to endure.
The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by His Holiness Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler (1998)
Despite one’s religious affiliations, strength and comfort can be had from the concept put forth by the Dalai Lama, whose messages in this spiritual guide include the idea that happiness is determined more by a person’s state of mind than by his external conditions or circumstances. One of the Dalai Lama’s most important teachings, and indeed the teachings of many philosophies and religions, is the importance of community, the shifting of focus from “I” to “we,” and that in giving to others, we enrich our own lives. In these lessons, we find hope and a reminder that money is not the source of our security and strength. Our source is some greater, unlimited power.
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