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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Author says she’s surprised her book is used in high school classes

Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” said she’s shocked by the comments made by Dennis and Aimee Taylor, parents of a Bedford High School student who made a formal complaint about the book to the Bedford School District.

“There’s usually not much controversy of any kind,” Ehrenreich said about her book. “I generally get feedback that students enjoy it and find it livelier reading than what they usually get.”

Ehrenreich, who lives in Virginia, said “Nickel and Dimed” is not often used in practical courses such as the personal finance class at Bedford High, and is instead used in sociology or writing classes, if used in a classroom setting at all.

Ehrenreich also said there was a “horrible misunderstanding” regarding one passage that the Taylors felt was especially inappropriate, in which Ehrenreich attends a religious revival meeting and criticizes the emphasis on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and not his teachings.

“What I was critical of in the revival was certainly not Jesus,” she said. “It was more the evangelical preachers who were speaking to poor people but in no way ever touching on what (Jesus) said about poverty and the immorality of great wealth. For me, it was a big pro-Jesus awakening when I was at that rally, to think of what Jesus would have said to this crowd or what he would have done. The preachers were in fact interested in raising money for themselves.”

She also addressed the Taylors’ anger over calling Jesus a “wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist” in the book.

“I’ll admit wine-guzzling is a little unfair, but he was definitely a wine-positive kind of guy,” she said. “As for a vagrant, once he quit the carpentry job, he didn’t have a home. He was an itinerant preacher and he hung out with a lot of disreputable people such as prostitutes and people who had to collect taxes for the Roman government.

“As for the precocious socialist part, he fit. He wanted you to sell all your stuff and give all your money to the poor. He was such a radical distributionist that I shudder a little bit. The disdain for material possessions is almost breathtaking in the teachings of Jesus.”

Ehrenreich said she didn’t know how the parents could be so outraged by the book and hopes she can some day talk to them about it. “I think it’s all a terrible misunderstanding. If I had the time and energy, I’d try to track down the parents and the child who were so horrified to explain.”

Ehrenreich said lied in its Dec. 6 story on the issue, in which the network said, “Ehrenreich did not respond to requests for comment.” She said she was never called or e-mailed.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or