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Dec 3 2018

Paycheck to Paycheck: 12 Memoirs About Odd Jobs

by Scot L

What’s it like to be a professional dishwasher, or a tax collector for the IRS? What enormous pressures is a prison guard subjected to on a daily basis? What were the hotel staff laughing about while you were checking out last weekend? With these – and other – questions in mind, we assembled a list of 12 memoirs that will take you behind the scenes of 12 very different workplaces. You can click on the book covers or titles below to be taken into our catalog, or click here for the entire list.

Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States by Pete Jordan

This is the true story of a man on a mission: to clean dirty dishes professionally in every state in America. Part adventure, part parody, and part miraculous journey of self-discovery, it is the unforgettable account of the author’s transformation from itinerant seeker into “Dishwasher Pete” – unlikely folk hero, writer, publisher of his own cult zine, and the ultimate professional dish dog – and how he gave it all up for love.

Confessions of a Tax Collector: One Man’s Tour of Duty Inside the I.R.S. by Richard Yancey

Richard Yancey needed a job. He answered a blind ad offering a starting salary higher than what he’d made over the three previous years combined. The job? Field officer with the Internal Revenue Service. Yancey was brilliant at it. As a revenue officer, Yancey knocked on doors and made people pay. (Never mind that he couldn’t remember where he stashed his own tax records.) Yancey details how the job changed him, and how he managed to pull himself back from the brink of moral, ethical, and spiritual bankruptcy.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

In this book, Jahren recounts her childhood in rural Minnesota, with a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs. These early experiences led to a career as a paleobiologist, a role that takes her around the world, from the North Pole to Hawaii to Ireland. The core of her book is the story of the relationship she forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, a student who becomes her lab partner and best friend.

Nature Noir: A Park Ranger’s Patrol in the Sierra by Jordan Fisher Smith

This is the story of Jordan Fisher Smith’s fourteen years as a park ranger on 48 miles of Sierra Nevada river canyons. Ranger work, in this place where wildness tends toward the human kind, includes encounters with armed miners who scour canyons for gold, drug-addled squatters, and extreme recreators who enjoy combining motorcycles, parachutes, and high bridges.

Blue Blood by Edward Conlon

Conlon, whose uncles, father, and grandfather were all police officers, and who becomes a NYPD officer himself after graduating from Harvard, paints a vivid portrait of the world of Big Apple law enforcement. Despite the fact that his father wanted something better for him, Conlon is irresistibly drawn to the force, and this book relates in thrilling, comic, tragic day-to-day details his ascent from beat patrolman to detective.

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist, throwing herself into the fascinating world of death investigation – performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. This book, which chronicles her two years of training, takes you behind the police tape of the events large (the disastrous crash of American Airlines flight 587) and small (the individual murders, suicides, and accidents that are her stock-in-trade).

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover

In this book, author Ted Conover spends a year as a prison guard at New York State’s infamous maximum-security facility, Sing Sing. A gallery officer, Conover often has to supervise scores of violent felons – by himself. As he confronts the impossibility of doing his job by the book, he begins to develop the sense of balance between leniency and tyranny that defines a good prison guard. This is an excellent look at what prison life does to people on both side of the bars.

Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert

Borchert, a longtime assistant librarian in a suburban Los Angeles library, pulls back the curtain on public library service and reveals a world overflowing with outsized, oddball personalities – on both sides of the desk.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky

When Jacob Tomsky emerged from college with a philosophy degree, he didn’t intend to enter the hospitality business. Yet he did, becoming a valet parker for a luxury hotel in New Orleans. Ten years later, Tomsky was still in the industry and had worked his way around and through the hotel world. In this book, you are provided a backstage look at what lies beneath the surface of hospitality.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Doughty, the blogger behind the popular web series Ask a Mortician, describes her experiences working at a crematory. In addition to detailing her day-to-day experiences – sweeping ashes from the machines, caring for bodies of all shapes and sizes – Doughty unearths and details the sometimes weird history of cremation and undertaking.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

Reichl, a former restaurant critic at the New York Times and once the editor-in-chief of Gourmet, recounts her visits to some of the world’s most acclaimed restaurants, where she often dined both as herself and – in disguises involving wigs, makeup, and credit cards under assumed names – anonymously.

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford

Author Bill Buford had long thought of himself as a reasonably comfortable cook before he decided to answer a question that ate at him every time he prepared a meal: How would his skills measure up in a professional kitchen? Buford seizes the opportunity to train in the kitchen of Mario Batali’s three-star New York restaurant, Babbo, and this book is the story of his time spent under Batali’s tutelage and of his apprenticeships with culinary masters in Italy.

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