On Dec. 3, In Cheap We Trust got a smart and sassy write-up on The Book Bench, the books blog of The New Yorker. Here’s what writer Vicky Raab had to say about ICWT:
“What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”—Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”
In the economically dispiriting spirit of the year that also honors the need to prop up the publishing industry, I suggest a one-book-fits-all approach to holiday giving, entitled, “In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue,” by Lauren Weber (980 rupees in India; $13.99 (used) on Amazon). Most of us will find ourselves and our loved ones somewhere in the pages of this penny-wise and bullion-foolish discussion about Americans’ attitudes toward thrift —bargain-hunting, thrift-shopping, dumpster-diving, or (you know who you are) calculating the savings on three-hundred-dollar boots amortized over a five-year period.
Weber, formerly a staff reporter for Reuters and Newsday—whose father, in the now fashionable, even ecological “turn down the thermostat” parlance of thriftiness, was a cheapskate, tightwad, skinflint, frugal—writes from a historical as well as a personal perspective: “I tell the story of cheapness and thrift as a subjective, lived experience and also as an idea, one that has meant different things to different people over the course of our history. At certain moments, it has been proposed as a panacea for sin, luxury, moral corruption, poverty, alcoholism, marital discord, war, and urban vice and depravity. At other times, like the present, it’s been blamed for recessions and for choking off the consumption needed to keep the economy chugging along.”
So gather round the yule log (but don’t light it; put on a sweater), peel away (then recycle) the wrappings on matters of getting and spending, and discover that what made us cringe as children is, at least while the progressive recessionary flame flickers, a perfectly virtuous all-American gift for the ages.