Bookworm: Reading ‘The 9.9 Percent’ just makes cents

‘American Comics’ is a great es-cape

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“The 9.9 Percent: The New Aristocracy That Is Entrenching Inequality and Warping Our Culture”

  • By Michael Stewart
  • c. 2021, Simon & Schuster
  • $28, $37 Canada; 352 pages

Jingle, jingle, jangle. That’s the sound of Almost Payday: a little coin in your pocket, just waiting for some folding paper to join it. Judging by that jingle alone, the rich get richer and the poor, well, you know. You also know where you are on the spectrum and it ain’t in the One Percent but that’s really not who you should watch anyhow. In the new book, “The 9.9 Percent” by Michael Stewart, another income group matters more.

It’s not fair.

You have to work for a living, while some people in the world play with spaceships and buy mansions and fun cars. You buy used because it fits your budget. They have a personal staff, you DIY. “It’s not fair,” you rant as you point your finger at a much-hyped One Percent, but you’re blaming the wrong group.

“The 9.9 Percent: The New Aristocracy That Is Entrenching Inequality and Warping Our Culture” by Michael Stewart.

Says Stewart, the main holders of most of America’s wealth are an elite, mostly-white, often white-collar 9.9 percent of the nation’s total population. With assets of just slightly over a mere million bucks, the 9.9 Percenters are not individually as moneyed as are the One Percenters, but they hold more sway, by far.

The kind of wealth that 9.9 Percenters have allows them to take parenting to higher levels, with super-highly-educated nannies, super-overscheduled kids, and funds to one-hundred-percent ensure that any future college is an Ivy League one. That wealth allows 9.9 Percenters not to “see” certain kinds of people. The 9.9 Percenters own their own homes, and often the homes of others, too. They always marry “right,” preferably up, but inequality in marriage happens often enough to be notable. And as you might expect, 9.9 Percenters don’t always notice when there’s an extra zero at the end of something they want.

“The 9.9 Percent: The New Aristocracy That Is Entrenching Inequality and Warping Our Culture” author Michael Stewart.
Photo provided

And yet, despite the undeniable perks, says Stewart, even 9.9 Percenters have to know that this decades-long society-affecting imbalance is unsustainable. Change takes sacrifice; it starts with disassembling several kinds of inequality, and a little thing called taxes...

This may all sound like so much preaching to the choir. And in a way, it is; author Michael Stewart isn’t really saying much here that hasn’t been muttered colloquially for two Presidential administrations or more. Nope, but it’s the way he says it: relevant, illustrative stories and wry cynicism, complete with alarming statistics make up “The 9.9 Percent.”

Indeed, readers are almost overwhelmed with stats that frame the issues that Stewart lays out: numbers on housing, education, gender, race, it’s all quite eye-opening. And if those things don’t ruffle your feathers, he points out that this chasm between have and have-not isn’t as wide as it seems, and that the income disparity wasn’t so disparate just a few decades ago.

And then there are the solutions he discusses. Will the 9.9 Percenters go along with them?

Readers will have their opinions by the end of this fascinating, shocking-not-shocking book, and those conclusions may go along (surprise!) party lines. Check it out for yourself, though: these days, absolutely, reading “The 9.9 Percent” just makes cents.

Want another angle?

Then look for “Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us” by Brian Klaas, a book based on interviews with some of the world’s most powerful, influential people. It might make you re-think your desire to sit in the commander’s chair.

More:Bookworm: A wild takeover in ‘Council of Animals’

“American Comics: A History”

  • By Jeremy Dauber
  • c. 2021, WW. Norton
  • $35, $47 Canada; 592 pages

A towel worked pretty well. If Mom got mad about you stealing one of her bath towels, then a folded sheet was good, or even an old shower curtain. Superheroes never worried about the fabric of their capes, and you didn’t, either. As long as kid-you could leap and climb and fight crime, you were happy. Even better: having “American Comics: A History” by Jeremy Dauber in your hands today.

Though, in a way, the history of American comics started with Egyptian hieroglyphics, you can also easily state that political cartoons were really this nation’s first cartoons. By 1827, comics without words, or the “picture-story,” was recognized as something valid that even semi-literate colonists could enjoy in books.

"American Comics: A History" by Jeremy Dauber.

Early newspapers eventually found cartoons, or the other way around, but those first comics were meant for adults. Still, turn-of-the-last-century children were savvy enough to understand the mischief of the Katzenjammer Kids and soon, comics were beloved by the whole family as they held up a mirror to what Americans were doing or dreaming about. That included conquering the Great Depression and the Fuhrer: by 1939, fourteen new superheroes had appeared in the nation’s comic books.

American GIs were voracious consumers of comics during World War II, as Sad Sack and Dick Tracy joined Barney Google in the service and Daddy Warbucks became a three-star general. Comic book publishers also joined the War Effort when forced to use just a single staple to keep their product together, something a superhero surely could’ve helped do.

WWII comic lovers returned home to some controversy: shortly after wars’ end, comic books were said to contribute to juvenile delinquency.

“American Comics: A History” author Jeremy Dauber.

The 1950s saw the heyday of horror comics and satire magazines that were not necessarily meant for consumption by children. Racism and sexism had always existed in comic books, but the 1960s saw a rise in strips by African American artists and more comic books with a feminist angle. And by the 1970s, comics had become “comix” and nearly everything changed ...

Once upon a time, you had piles of comic books. Well-loved, well-thumbed-through, you even read the ads on the back, didn’t you? Yeah, and with plenty of nostalgia and cultural touchpoints, “American Comics” will remind you of those rainy Saturdays spent fighting pixelated crime in POWs, BAMs, and WHAMs.

But here’s the thing: author Jeremy Dauber never lets readers forget that comic book history is inseparably American history. We can trace this country’s past almost entirely through comics like Krazy Kat, Lil’ Orphan Annie, Captain America, Sad Sack, Archie, and Wee Pals, and we can see how American opinions changed according to our favorite funny pages. That makes this book perfect for comic book collectors, unusual-history buffs, and anyone who thought they were wasting time all day when (ha!) they were just reading comic books.

Dear Mom: We forgive you for throwing out all our comic books so long ago. We’d rather have them back, but this book is a warm reminder of them. For sure, “American Comics” is a great es-cape.

More:Bookworm: ‘Change Sings’ a joyous book for your child

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.