Book Review: Evicted
Slept on it for four years, and now anxious to read it a second time.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City had been a book I wanted to get to for, apparently, four years. When it first came out there was tons of hype, and I heard from multiple places that “it’s sooo good.” It came out before I used libby to read new releases because I was a remain pretty far from being able to buy books whenever I want to read them.
But alas, the audiobook was available on libby recently, and I waited the requisite six weeks to access it, and voila.
I truly loved this book.
To be fair, I have a positive bias toward audiobooks 99.9% of the time. It takes a lot for me to choose to actively listen to them, because psychologically there is something that feels much more obligatory and work-heavy about listening to a book than reading it (idk, something to unpack later), but when I manage to actually do it, it always makes me like it more.
Listening to this book as an audiobook did, however, make it a little confusing. I wish the chapters had numbers and had indications of whose story we were going back into. The book follows eight families living in poverty in Milwaukee, and jumps between them. As a result, it sometimes was hard for me to keep track of who had which kids, what each person’s story was, and when the stories were transitioning. I think reading names and seeing chapters would have helped me keep this straight, and made the impact even more resounding.
It struck me that this book felt written “fairly.”
I wish I had a better way to state this, or an even stronger sense of my own biases so I could criticize myself, but as I am I was grateful and relieved that this book did not participate in victim-blaming to anyone. The people living in poverty were written with the same respect, care, and love as the landlords making six figures on their misfortunes. Everyone in this book was written as human, as “normal”, as experiencing life and doing they best they can. I think this is so rare, and could read (okay, could listen) to the book without cringing and grinding my teeth at the perspective of the author.
My favorite part was the epilogue and the ‘about this project.’
Through the course of this book, I was constantly wondering but who had access to get these details, to catch these human-emotional moments, to portray these stories with care? And the closing bits of the book explained this in a way that almost makes me want to buy the book and annotate this portion. I found myself much more engrossed and hanging on every word in understanding the process that went into writing this. Matthew Desmond lived in the places he wrote about for a bit over a year and then continued to visit, building relationships and trust, and doing a bit to help people along the way. He explains how his life intersected with those he wrote about, and where there were hesitancies.
What came out of this book
…for me is a lingering wonder about what Desmond did with the profits, and if any of them landed back in the hands of those whose stories he told. He’s a white man literally profiting off of the poverty voyeurism that he wrote a book about and teaches about professionally. I didn’t do any research about him before, and afterwards found out he works at Princeton and runs an “eviction lab. ”As another white person who works with and profits off of people living in poverty (by getting a paycheck from a non-profit) I personally struggle with this a ton and assume he does, too. How does he grapple with that? How do any of us?