Audiobook Review: I Don’t Want to Die Poor by Michael Arceneaux

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Ever since Oprah Winfrey told the 2007 graduating class of Howard University, “Don’t be afraid,” Michael Arceneaux has been scared to death. You should never do the opposite of what Oprah instructs you to do, but when you don’t have her pocket change, how can you not be terrified of the consequences of pursuing your dreams?
Michael has never shied away from discussing his struggles with debt, but in I Don’t Want to Die Poor, he reveals the extent to which it has an impact on every facet of his life—how he dates; how he seeks medical care (or in some cases, is unable to); how he wrestles with the question of whether or not he should have chosen a more financially secure path; and finally, how he has dealt with his “dream” turning into an ongoing nightmare as he realizes one bad decision could unravel all that he’s earned. You know, actual “economic anxiety.”
I Don’t Want to Die Poor is an unforgettable and relatable examination about what it’s like leading a life that often feels out of your control. But in Michael’s voice that’s “as joyful as he is shrewd” (BuzzFeed), these razor-sharp essays will still manage to make you laugh and remind you that you’re not alone in this often intimidating journey.

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Like many essay collections, this one has some excellent ones and some that didn’t work for me. But one thing I can’t deny is that the author is absolutely hilarious and sarcastic and I had many laugh out loud moments. It’s even more fun if you listen to the audiobook.

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However, the fun nature of the writing doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the topics he is discussing – crippling student debt, making not so happy career choices to keep paying the bills, having to choose between eating a meal or paying the next installment, dealing with bill collectors all the time, probably not going to the doctor in lieu of not being able to afford insurance, believing oneself not worthy of love or happiness or any good thing because being in debt is considered a moral failure, trying to drown the sorrows through other vices – every issue that author talks about and the situations that he has experienced tugs at your heartstrings. He is also rightfully critical of the political and capitalist systems that are responsible for the insurmountable debt that students find themselves in with no silver lining in sight.

His essay that he dedicates to his mother and says how he can never repay her for all that she has done for him really touched me, and also made me realize my own extreme privilege in graduating without any student loans and how I can’t truly understand the despair he talks about. And I’m still amazed at the irreverent tone he manages to maintain throughout.

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But if there’s one thing that he wishes everyone takes from his book and one advise that I truly believe we all can use – it’s that learn to forgive yourself and make time for your own happiness. Whatever problem we have isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean we should deprive ourselves of the little things that give us joy.

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