We’ve spent the past year talking about the mythical Trump Voter. We’re told about the working class voters that have been left behind since the 1980s. What we never talk about is how they left themselves behind. How they voted for candidates who cut funding to programs they needed, who took from them and gave to the rich. Instead, we get images of white laborers in the suburbs and rural areas who are angry at a system we’re told they had no role in creating.
Well, that system didn’t just leave them behind. It left most of America behind. What we aren’t hearing about is the inner cities that have been left behind for decades. Well, if you go back to David Simon and Edward Burns’ engrossing look at Baltimore, “The Corner: A year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood,” you’ll get a close up view of what happened.
This is the second in a series on 15 books every American should read. The initial post in the series took a look at James W. Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me.“
Simon, whose reporting helped inspire “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “The Wire,” is not just one of America’s greatest journalists, he’s a brilliant storyteller who fills his work with precise details and thorough descriptions of each person. Teaming up with Burns, a former city cop, he brings out the real issues that families and communities face in the inner city.
I first read the book almost a decade ago and return to it every now and then just to pick up some of Simon’s craft. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow him @aodespair. What first captured me about “The Corner” is that it breaks down the stereotypes you so often see in writing on poverty. I’d picked it up shortly after I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed.” That book deserves the praise it gets. It’s well written and honest. But one thing struck me. There were times Ehrenreich seemed to down on the other people in her books. It was hard to pinpoint, but I felt a bit of condescension. I never got that in “The Corner.” (An aside, “Nickel and Dimed” is a very valuable read. If you’re going to pick up this book, pick that one up too. Also: Buzz Bissinger’s “A Prayer for the City.)
Anyway, what makes “The Corner” so spectacular is that, unlike the stories we’re being spoonfed daily about The Trump Voter we’re all supposed to feel so bad for, this book gives you an unflinching look at people who are being left by a system.
To me, Americans today read too many books by politicians and pundits about the issues we face and not enough books that will give them an accurate portrayal of those problems.
If that book does come along about the Trump Voter, I’ll be sure to read it, however.
Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America: Barbara Ehrenreich
A Prayer for The City: Buzz Bissinger
Race: What Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession: Studs Terkel