It really takes a lot for me to hate a book.
Maybe it’s because I understand the difficult and invasive process required to spew words out from the darkest corners of your soul, string them up in a pubic display that has the enormous potential to be entirely humiliating, and allow the masses to tear them to bloody shreds in an instant. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent hours–even days– ruminating endlessly over the best way to phrase something so simple as, “It was nighttime when it happened.” But mostly, it falls to my obsessive need to research every minor detail of nonfiction text before allowing the public to view anything, a skill beaten into me as an intern speechwriter for a Pennsylvania congressman in college.
This annoying or quirky act I find myself fretting over is one I view as a skill, though the internship was like some level of hell. God forbid one fallacy of logic slipped through, or I’d have my ass handed to me in the form of a rejected manuscript and having to stay up all night (again) to reresearch the damn thing.
But I could see the importance of this. It offered the text a validity, an assurance to the reader (or in my case, the audience) that the writer didn’t just throw some shit down on paper while streaming several episodes of Bob’s Burgers and call it a day. It allows the reader to trust the writer; sorry, kids, but researching, particularly within nonfiction texts, is important.
Unfortunately and apparently, Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, does not feel the same.
Because I genuinely try to find the good in every text, it pains me to admit that Hand to Mouth might very well be the worst book I have ever read, and this is taking into account Proust’s Swann’s Way, Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (also known as One Hundred Years of Shut the Hell Up), and every Palm Sunday Gospel reading in Mass I have ever sat through since the age of 5. It is not only weakly but atrociously argued, overly subjective and repetitive to the point of madness, belligerent towards the innocent, and void of even the slightest academic merit.
Tirado has successfully pushed herself into the role of victim, a member of the working poor who scrapes and struggles to survive in America today. Yet she claims to be a very intelligent, well-educated woman who is simply punished by the system, not unlike the millions of others in this country who don’t piss and moan as Tirado manages to do for nearly 300 pages (keep in mind that this well-educated argument comes after an entire chapter of her ranting about her losing all her teeth in a car accident, somehow making it into bashing of the rich because they don’t understand why she can’t smile). Her logic and her ranting becomes so nonsensical at certain points that it will make the reader want to stand up and scream, “WE GET IT, WE KNOW YOU’RE POOR.” But I’d argue that anyone with even the slightest amount of brain capacity can see through her whining and martyrdom. But it was a good try, Linda.
Mark this part carefully. I separate the issues discussed at length in the book from the actual text itself. I do not argue that poverty is one of the most catastrophic of crises that strikes American families, and I do not argue that people struggle with hunger and homelessness in this country every single day. These are facts, though Tirado’s rants do nothing to help push the issue in any direction.
Nor do I deny that Linda Tirado probably was dealt an unfair hand when she was making her way into the world (though, as a reader, it would have been so helpful to have some solidified context as to what exactly occurred in her past that pushed her into poverty besides the “I was in a car crash but (even though being well-educated) didn’t know that the insurance company would have me sign something, limiting me to a certain amount of money. HAVE YOU EVER SEEN ONE COMMERCIAL FOR LAWYERS ON TV, JUST ONE?). But I worked my share of hours in low paying labor jobs too. I’ve been screamed at and had things thrown at me by angry customers, and I have seen other people scrape by with enormous debts and medical costs as well. And they were a heck of a lot quieter about it too.
There’s an enormous difference rhetorically when someone is arguing with you and when someone is shouting at you. Tirado quite literally shouts her anger and frustration for an entire book without one single piece of evidence to back any of it up. There is no research even offered anywhere here. There are no government-funded website facts, there are no agency facts, there are no interviews. There is literally nothing except Tirado tiring us to death about, “Boo, rich people, yay, poor people!”
This text is insulting to the reader, and I’m frankly flabbergasted that a publisher would even decide to print such an enormous amount of wasted ink. Tirado’s book is essentially one long blog post. Too bad the blog posts I’ve seen my kid brother do for his 10th grade classes are more well researched than the entirety of Hand to Mouth.