I really enjoy books that give a glimpse into another lifestyle. That’s why I enjoyed Trading with the Enemy , in which Nicholas Maier describes his experience working for Jim Cramer at his hedge fund. That’s why I enjoyed A Million Bucks by 30 by Alan Corey , which was the story of how Alan “overcame a crap job, stingy parents, and a useless degree to become a millionaire before (or after) turning thirty.” When I was asked to check out Adam Shepard’s book, Scratch Beginnings, I agreed. Scratch Beginnings  is a true story, written in Adam’s own words, about him starting literally from scratch with $25 in Charleston, South Carolina.
The book was conceived as a direct response to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel & Dimed, Adam says so in the foreward, and tells the story of his experience starting from practically nothing. He goes by rail to Charleston, S.C., stays in homeless shelters, takes day jobs, all in an attempt to “win” by getting an apartment and saving up $5000. He wants to prove that you can start from nothing and still achieve in this country. It’s a daunting task and he realizes it. He won’t use any of his existing connections, friends, or anything like that – he’s truly trying to, as best as he can, start from the bottom up.
I like the book because maintains a positive voice. The people living in Crisis Ministries, the homeless shelter Adam stays in at the beginning of his journey, aren’t at the end of their lives… they’re merely in a transitional point. When they watch bootleg movies, they’re simply passing the time until that day they realize it’s time to move on with their lives. In his first day of working as a day laborer, he was surprised at how hard people worked for such low pay (after transportation fees, check fees, etc.) and only later realized that strong performance was rewarded with easier jobs and higher pay. While positive, not everything is rosy and Adam will be the first to admit it. Heck, his first night in Charleston almost ended very badly if not for some good luck.
I struggle with how to describe this but throughout the book Adam shares his perspective, from the point of view of someone on the outside looking in, on various situations. These commentaries are particularly intriguing because it gives you a glimpse inside the mind of someone pulling themselves up from their bootstraps, a perspective you don’t often learn about. Individuals seeking to improve their condition rarely have the time, nor the inclination, to write about it – they’re too busy living it. The first person perspective is also important because it’s not a social or case worker positing what these men and women are thinking and feeling, it’s from the mind of the men and women themselves. While you could argue that Adam is a special case, he could theoretically walks out of this at anytime, while he’s still living this life he is able to understand it that much better.
The book reads very quickly and very conversationally. It’s as if you’re sitting in a bar and Adam is telling the story over a beer. I won’t tell you if he succeeds or not, that’s for you to find out, but I will say the book took only a few hours to finish and was entertaining and educational the entire way.