Monday, September 2, 2013

Books Celebrating Work

Labor Day.  The day in America when we enjoy the last barbecues of summer, put away our white shoes and purses, and rush to department store sales. It seems that only incidentally do we celebrate the contributions of workers.

Here are two books that come to mind about employment. Although they are both written by British authors, in their own way they celebrate Work.

A Month in the Country (1980) by J.L. Carr - I read this quite a few years ago. It is the story of a World War I veteran who is hired to uncover and restore a centuries-old mural in a country church in Northern England. The book captures the essence of summer in the 1920's countryside and is about much more than work. I see that it was made into a movie starring Colin Firth which means it now goes on my Films To See List.

One Pair of Hands (1939) by Monica Dickens - A totally different look at labor by the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens. This is a tale of her brief experiences 'below the stairs' as cook and housemaid in London. It is a very funny book. I own this one. Her encounters with her upper-class employers, the tradesmen who show up at the back door, and her fellow domestics are hilarious. 

Here is her attempt at her first - and last - meal for a Miss Cartermole and guests: dawned on me more and more that high-class cooking lessons are all very well, but a little practical experience is necessary, too, in order to cope with the vicissitudes that crop up in the kitchen.

I made the fruit salad first. That was quite easy, as all I had to do was cut up fruit and mess it together in a bowl. After a bit, I got tired of scraping the pith off oranges, and I also caught sight of the time, so I pushed the rest, all stringy, to the bottom of the dish, and rushed the pheasants into the oven. Then I washed the vegetables sketchily, and put them on to cook. Feverishly, I opened the tins of lobster. When I came to from the agonized delirium of a torn thumb, I was confronted with the problem of how on earth one made lobster cocktail. I started to make them into a sticky mess with some tomato, thinned down with a little of my life-blood. At this critical point the mistress of the house careered into the kitchen in full feather.

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