Category Archive 'Salwens'

12 Mar 2010

Holier Than Thou

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Kevin Salwen’s daughter Hannah didn’t think her parents were doing enough for the poor. So she persuaded them to sell their $1.6 million house and give half the proceeds to a village in Ghana.

I expect she also persuaded them to write a book about what they did, and tell the New Yorker all about it, too.

One day in 2006, Kevin and Hannah pulled up at a stoplight. To their left was a homeless man, to their right a guy in a Mercedes coupé. Hannah said, “Dad, if that man didn’t have such a nice car, then that homeless man could have a meal.” Kevin said, “Yes, but if we didn’t have such a nice car that man could have a meal.” This sank in rather more deeply than he’d intended. By dinnertime, Hannah was all worked up. She didn’t want to be a family that just talked about doing good, she said. She wanted to be a family that actually did something. Kevin and Joan explained that they did a lot: they volunteered at the food bank; they wrote big checks to charities; after Hurricane Katrina, they let a family of refugees stay in their basement. Hannah rolled her eyes. That was annoying, so Joan said, “What do you want to do, sell the house?” And Hannah said, “Yeah! That is exactly what I want to do.”

“We don’t expect anyone else to sell their house,” Hannah assured the Marymount girls, whose parents might not have appreciated a demand by their offspring to donate eight hundred thousand dollars (half the value of the Salwens’ house) to charity. “We know that’s a ridiculous thing to do. But everyone has something they can afford to give away. If you watch six hours of TV a week, maybe you cut that down to three hours and spend three with your family volunteering at a homeless shelter.”

A girl with a ponytail raised her hand. “Have you ever regretted selling your house?” she asked.

“There are some things that I miss,” Hannah said. “We had an elevator that led up to my room, and it was really cool, because nobody else had an elevator in their room. My friends would say, ‘Let’s ride in the elevator!’ But it really doesn’t matter.”

Now, there is a Oneupsmanship line that Stephen Potter might envy.

Publisher’s Weekly:

In this well-meaning but self-congratulatory memoir, the Salwen family decides to sell their gorgeous Atlanta mansion, move to a home half the size, and commit half the proceeds to the needy. … The authors tend to gush over their efforts while discounting the privileged position that allows them to make them (“we think everyone can give one of the three T’s: time, talent or treasure”); their unflagging optimism, buttressed by clear self-regard, can also be tiring.

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