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Powell's Q&A

Barbara Ehrenreich (2005)

Describe your latest project.
For my latest book, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Search for the American Dream, I went undercover as a white-collar job seeker. From the start — a career coach who illustrated his "lessons" with Wizard of Oz dolls — it was a real down-the-rabbit-hole experience. I tried everything — Internet job boards, career coaches, networking groups, "boot camps," job fairs, and an expensive personal make-over — and can't even say I experienced rejection: Complete invisibility is more like it. But what a strange world! The emphasis in today's corporate culture seems to be all on "personality" — especially "likeability" — rather than on skills or experience. Coaches tell you that you can alter the universe with your thoughts. Networking groups turn out to be proselytizing events for the Christian Right. A lot of this is funny — or would be if it didn't involve the lives of so many real people who have been laid-off, downsized, "riffed," and "re-orged" out of their jobs and now find themselves having to sell their homes and take on Nickel and Dimed-type jobs at near-minimum wages.

If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
How about "Barbara Ehrenreich: The Most Renowned Intellectual from Butte, Montana"? ...Assuming that doesn't insult the other intellectuals who've come out of Butte, and believe it or not, there are a few of us.

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false. Why or why not?
Maybe fiction writers are good liars, but we nonfiction writers are stuck with the truth.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
I'm reading The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh because I loved his earlier book, The Calcutta Chromosome, which my son — who is a whole lot hipper than I am — put me on to.

Why do you write?
It beats working. Besides, the subject keeps changing, so it's good for those of us with ADD.

Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin?
Kelvin, of course, because the others are too local and earth-oriented. At zero Kelvin, nothing happens, nothing at all, not even molecular vibrations. Now that's cool!

What do you dislike most?
Mean people, and especially self-righteous mean people. I recently heard of a hotel guest who, instead of a tip, left the housekeeper a note in the Gideon Bible explaining that the verse that was marked explained why he didn't tip. I don't know what that verse was, or where the Bible deals with tipping. But then I don't know where it mentions stem cells, either.

Talk about your vision of the ideal life.
Sort of like Karl Marx's: working a little in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, and writing poetry at night. Maybe those weren't his exact ingredients but the idea is not doing the same thing all the time or being stuck in your cubicle all day. Also, I don't fish but would ideally kayak on the open sea every day, in addition to reading, writing, and hanging out with friends. And there should definitely be some dancing. spacer

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