BOOK REVIEW: Barbara Ehrenreich is old enough to die, but still has plenty to say

In Gulliver’s Travels, the titular character visits many strange, foreign lands in the service of satirist Jonathan Swift’s desire to poke fun at the flaws of the culture of his time and to talk regularly about human excretions.

Adaptations, especially those aimed at children, tend to only reproduce the book’s evocative imagery of being a giant among the tiny Lilliputians and being doll-sized among the towering Brobdingnagians. They leave out the scenes of defecating enough to fill a miniature church or being forced to watch colossal serving girls urinate. Laputa, the floating island of scientific wonder, sometimes appears in other contexts such as Japanese animated film, but without the associations of trying to turn digested food back into something edible. The humanoid primitives, Yahoos, survived into common parlance better than the rational, equine Houyhnhnms, but without the association of feces-flinging.

One brief, excreta-free section from Gulliver’s Travels is not among those often reproduced whatsoever: Gulliver meeting the immortal struldbrug. These are a special breed of human who are able to live essentially forever but without eternal youth. Their teeth fall out, their eyesight and hearing fail, their memories dull, they aren’t allowed autonomy or property ownership, and eventually can’t communicate even with each other because their dialects grow indistinguishable. The people of the land of Luggnagg are thankful for death because they’re constantly reminded of what the real alternative is.

I’m not the first to point out the similarity of modern medicine in creating cursed immortality as a reality for us, but our appreciation for the inevitability and even relief of death continues to lag behind for most.

Barbara Ehrenreich is definitely not counted among such people, and her latest book Natural Causes is a short, solid piece of prose about what it means to suffer from age, accepting the reality of death, and the sorts of things a person ought to consider when weighing both.

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The uniformity of franchises makes the individual shine through

The other day I found myself needing the sort of assortment of stuff that once sent folk scrambling all over town all weekend, but now can be had in about an hour at any Walmart.

I shop in the living-alone bachelor way indistinguishable from a man preparing for the apocalypse. I buy enough canned food to last six months, enough soap, toothpaste and toilet paper to last a year. Shampoo, two years.

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I experienced my first Black Friday last week

Actually, until my sister got a job selling cell phones (down in the Sam’s store), I was pretty ignorant about the whole idea.

“I don’t know how to put this, but it’s kind of a big deal.”

I’ve read about some of the Black Friday observants. These people are certifiably insane. I feel less safe to go out in public knowing one of them could be around the next corner, trying to get a good deal. If we were at the same shopping center, I might actually fear for my well-being, especially if we were reaching for the same item. These folks are stone-cold professionals and wouldn’t think twice about dropping me right there in the aisle. They would drop me, and they’d sleep well that night.

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