Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Review: Other People's Dirt

The Cobbler often accuses me of spending too much time reading about cleaning and not enough time actually cleaning.  In some ways, he's right.  I'm a constant lurker in the 648 section in the library (A.K.A. housekeeping) and I'm always looking for a new book that will give me the breakthrough I need to become the Martha Stewart of my neighborhood.  Okay, not really, but I wish my house was cleaner and thus ironically I keep reading instead of cleaning.

This past week, while in the midst of my 648 browsing, I came across Other People's Dirt.  It's not the typical how to book you normally find in that section.  This book chronicles Louise Rafkin's misadventures over her years as a professional house cleaner.  She tells tales about clients like the woman who fired her for leaving two Cheerios in the kitchen sink (she forgot to wipe the sink after dumping her bucket of water), the couple she refers to as "The Hoarders" because of their propensity to buy everything in bulk, and how she and her co-cleaner would hold anti-pageants of who could find the most useless and ugly item in each house they cleaned.  I wish the entire book was like this because I enjoyed the amusing anecdotes that she included.  Unfortunately, there weren't that many.

The rest of the book is a mish mash of topics related to dirt...and not really in a good way.  Rafkin explores an art installation that is literally a room full of dirt.  She reminisces about the housekeeper Lupita her family employed when she was a child.  She briefly works for a cleaning company she refers to as "Happy Maids" (might these maids be merry?).   I assume she did so that she could get the dirt on them and slam the company in this book for paying unreasonably low wages.  She interviews maids who clean in lingerie and in the nude.  She meets with the owner of a company that cleans up crime scenes (yes, you get to hear about how to get human remains out of carpet).  And finally, she lives on a commune in Japan with a group of people who follow the teachings of Tenko Nishida, which are grounded in the concept of humble service.  In this case, a lot of feet washing and scrubbing of public restrooms.  I got the feeling a lot while I was reading that she didn't have enough material to submit the book for publication so she just kept rooting around for more until she hit the minimum amount of words needed.

In the end, I don't think I really learned anything from this book.  Yes, I was amused at times, but not enough to recommend reading this book to others.  Even the author just couldn't seem to wrap it up in the end.  She asks a Nishida disciple how she can apply their teaching in America.  The woman responds with "Live a simple life with an affluent spirit."  Sounds great....what does this have to do with cleaning again?  I think I should have just picked up my mop and bucket and used them instead of wasting my time reading this book.


chereemoore said...

Too bad this wasn't a better read, it sounds like it could have been very interesting.

I am with you on the cleaning thing... it is so much easier to read about cleaning than it is to actually do it. I fear I will never be a great housekeeper, but as long as things are relatively clean and we are happy, I am good with my short comings...

Kim Turnage said...

The title gave me high hopes, and I share your greater affinity for reading about cleaning versus actually cleaning. Thanks for your honest review and for saving me the time to read it (though I don't think I'll use that time to do any cleaning either).