Member Name: elkiedee
Follow the Money: A Month in the Life of a Ten-Dollar Bill - Steve Boggan
Date: 16/12/12, updated on 07/05/13 (30 review reads)
Advantages: An interesting visit to the people of small town America, charming and quirky style
Disadvantages: Sometimes the pace drags a bit
A British journalist arrives in the tiny town of Lebanon, Kansas, chosen for its central position in the USA. His plan is to track the progress of a 10 dollar bill for a month, and use this as a starting point for meeting and talking to some ordinary Americans about their lives. The concept is a bit artificial and Steve Boggan regularly reminds us of this. People might just take it to the bank or put it in a child's money box. However, a number of people obviously welcome the novelty of an eccentric Englishman in a tiny town which rarely attracts tourists and lacks any hotels or motels.
To an extent his subjects are self-selecting - those who don't really want to spend much of their time chatting with him can just hand the note straight on for the most part, those who welcome the diversion might keep hold of it for a day or two. The first people he meets have let him rent accommodation for the night online in a hunting lodge - they turn out to be a couple who actually met online, and that does suggest that they will be open to helping him start his mad project. Unlike the glamorous and exciting big cities, this is the sort of place few outsiders ever visit, though surprisingly, Boggan does meet an Englishman who has gone native.
I really enjoyed the accounts of the lives of those Boggan meets on his travels, such as his first hosts, Rick and Kay Chapin, who are happy to open up on their views of the problems the town faces. Boggan has a relaxed, chatty and self-deprecating style, and I thought he was good on the details of people's lives.
Over a book rather than an article, the pace does occasionally drag, and he does spend a lot of time hanging around waiting for things to happen. Sometimes he conveys the boredom as well as his subjects' interesting stories. In the small town mid west, some people take a while to get round to spending money. There are few big journeys or big cities.
This is quite a lightweight work of travel journalism written to entertain, not a serious academic treatise, but I thought it offered a bit of genuine insight into the lives of a few people struggling to get by in the declining small towns of the mid west, in an area rarely visited by tourists. I was charmed by Steve Boggan for a few hours, and will look out for his articles and/or books with interest.
I originally heard of the book through extracts read on Radio 4's Book of the Week and then snapped up a review copy (courtesy of Amazon Vine) - it is currently available in trade paperback or Kindle (and presumably other ebook) format, published by Union Books.
Summary: An English journalist visits small town America