Tag Archives: social change

The Monday Book: THE MAN WHO QUIT MONEY by Mark Sundeen

Jack handed me this book, said it had wafted into the bookstore, and that I would like it.

He was right. Daniel Suelo, the title character, grew up in a Christian household where, as he put it in an interview, he was at university before he realized “You could be a Christian and a Democrat at the same time.”

How this guy wound up living, not just off the grid, but out of the system, is a wonderful timeline in and of itself, but I admit freely I loved the book because he set up milemarkers at some of my favorite intellectual curiosity points.

Switching from pre-med to anthropology, he worked on a book about the sacred feminine, started thinking about social justice mixed with theology, joined the Peace Corps and watched what “missionary” meant when money turned into salvation, and pretty much decided “Nah.”

Sundeen is a sensitive writer, his telling of the story digging deep into roots but leaving blooms untouched. He handles very spiritual discussion with what can only be called pragmatic respect.

But his analysis isn’t limited to the big ideas. He also explains, in head-swimming detail, how to conduct a successful dumpster dive, one of the many ways in which Suelo eats. And eats well.

He sleeps in a cave, uses wifi at the library, will not beg or use social services, but does trade labor for stuff. Suelo volunteers at a women’s shelter. Sundeen takes care to paint a picture of a man who is not surviving, but thriving. And having fun thinking it through.

The discussions, the ideas, and the practical hints for people who may not want to get off the road entirely, but would like to travel more lightly, made this a lovely read for me. (Not that the book is a how-to; it’s a “what he did,” and Suelo takes pains to explain to Sundeen, and by proxy those reading about him, that there is no way to “sort of” live this lifestyle. If you use a little bit of money or trade or social services, you wind up using all of it.

And for all that the concepts are huge and thought-provoking, Sundeen’s writing style makes the words slide past your eyes so fast, you’re surprised later at how much you remember, how much time you’ve spent thinking about them. When Jack handed me the book, I was busy and started reading just to see if I’d like the writing. Sixty pages later, I glanced up, still standing up by the dining room table. Jack had just left me there when he couldn’t gain my attention.

This is Suelo’s Facebook page if you want to visit: https://www.facebook.com/themanwhoquitmoney.

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Filed under book reviews, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

What If…..

What if a book leaves us unchanged?

People read books for all sorts of reasons: entertainment, information, because someone (or everyone) else is… but what if we read a book, and it makes an impact, reaches out and punches us right in the heart? And what if we cry, and swear that we will change the world that could hold such horrid truths as, oh, say, Grapes of Wrath. Or Tess of the D’urbervilles. Or even Hunger Games–which may not have the staying power of those first two, but still packs quite a wallop in the interesting metaphor and parable of social justice departments.

What if we say all that, and then we pick up the next book in the stack–or advertised on the side of the bus–and keep reading?

Does it still count, that we cried, that we felt what the characters felt, saw the injustice, the fear, the hurt? Or did it never happen? Because it really didn’t happen, did it, that thing that left us shaking until we looked up and realized we were just riding the subway, holding a paperback.

Unless it did happen. Inside us. I can count hundreds of books I’ve read in the last few years, but ask which ones changed me, and I can count them on my fingers. The Smallmart Revolution. The House of Sand and Fog. And the Band Played On. A book of short stories called Hunger by Lan Chang. Rory Stewart’s Prince of the Marshes.  Kite Runner. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Children’s Story by James Clavell. Rumer Godden’s translation of Prayers from the Ark.  I can also tell you exactly what they did, in order: changed where I shopped; sent me to volunteer at a refugee center; taught me to be embarrassed at some of the church rhetoric surrounding AIDS; made me a better Cultural Studies professor, x3; gave me my first naive understandings of white privilege; scared the shit out of me; and renewed my faith in innocence.

I can’t list such specifics for most of the books I’ve read. Every book we absorb lays a foundation, yes, puts another brick in the walls of our beliefs, anchors our approach to life. Every word is valuable–or at least being able to access it is valuable. But not every work changes us, does it? The ones that suddenly, before we can defend against it, turn us sideways, tilt our world’s axis–well, when I sit back and think about, I’m surprised at how small a list that is. I remember passages and themes from many books, but when I think about the ones that visibly affected the way I think, act, speak—–the list shrinks.

So, which book(s) shaped you, turned you into who you are now, or filed away the rough edges of what you used to think? Which books made you say “what if” and then stick with “if?”


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography