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January 18-24, 2006

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Book Box

Crap Jobs: 100 Tales Of Workplace Hell
Take it from this ex-midnight shift file clerk, telemarketer of defective Bic pens, industrial-boiler asbestos stripper and apartment manager of a complex where domestic violence was everyone's favorite sport—there are a load of crap jobs out there. England's Idler magazine anthologizes 100 wretched examples with personal memoirs. Recounted here are the "death-metal" odors of an old-folks home, the Glengarry Glen Ross-style viciousness at a hospital-bed warehouse and the reminiscences of a human counterweight: "It's a sad state of affairs when you realize that a lump of stone could actually do a better job than you." Those who have longed for a role as maggot-farm carrion turner, nightclub toilet unblocker, phone-sex dominatrix or, worst, journalist, will learn how these occupations can make their wildest dreams come true. Included in the Yank edition are notes about the lack of vacation and benefits the average American gets compared to his cousins overseas. There is also a pounds-to-dollars conversion chart, so you can learn how little money the English reap in exchange for being submitted to waterfalls of every bodily fluid, corrosive fumes and the music of Elton John. If there is a single conclusion to be drawn, it's this: No matter how horrible the working conditions, the really crap job always depends upon really crap co-workers: the aggressive pervert, the conscienceless flake and the drunken rageball. (Edited by Dan Kieran; Harper Paperbacks; 160 pages; $11.95 paper)
—Richard von Busack

Come On In!: New Poems
For a man who spent a good deal of his writing life contemplating his nether regions, hardscrabble West Coast poet and dog-racing aficionado Charles Bukowski has had an appropriately virile afterlife. Twelve years after his death, the archive of poems he selected for posthumous publication continues to cough up books, the latest of which is Come On In! Here are all the old Bukowski concerns: the flatulence and falseness of the so-called real world; the beady-eyed self-loathing that develops out of the mere fact of rubbing up against it; and the slow way Bukowski climbed his way out of these depths by writing. "I thought,/ Jesus Christ," he writes of reading a Truman Capote story, "if this is what they/ want,/ from now on/ I might as well write for/ the rats and the spiders/ and the air and just for/myself." This is, of course, something of a posture, but Come on In! shows again just how effective a Pied Piper it made of Bukowski. In a world of fakes and frauds, he was the voice you could trust—a Howard Stern of the poetry world when satellite radio was just a gleam in some inventor's eye. But there is an anecdotal nowness to his poems that never seems to age. When Bukowski writes of shuffling off to a cafe to talk books with his low-down friends, of hunching over his desk to work, it feels as if we are right there watching. In today's environment of willful poetic obscurity, this is refreshing and terribly charming. Like Kurt Vonnegut, Bukowski reminds us we can all still be young at heart, true to our own best selves. (By Charles Bukowski; Ecco; 277 pages; $27.50 cloth)
—John Freeman


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