Book Club: A Manual For Cleaning Women


Sometimes I find short stories hard to read because they can be gritty and raw, and distilled to an uncomfortable point where I feel too sad or uncomfortable or drained by reading them.  The first story in A Manual for Cleaning Women was that way.  And so were many others at the beginning.  Somewhere in the first quarter of the book I wondered if the stories were autobiographical and I read about the author, Lucia Berlin. I didn’t know what to wish for -I didn’t want for her to have lived that life.  I read some articles and I thought, “there are just so many short stories in this book, I don’t know if I can go on.”

For reasons that defy explanation, I decided to take a break and read A Cure For Suicide.  At this time, the short list for the Tournament of Books came out, and the two books I was reading from the long list didn’t make the cut.  A Cure For Suicide was an OK library book, but it didn’t go where I wanted it to go.  It was a quick and weird read.  So I went back to A Manual for Cleaning Women.  This time, I just read and enjoyed it.  The story grew and expanded and became more detailed.  The author was complicated, and smart and interesting and flawed.  I am still thinking about the stories weeks later.  I highly recommend this book, with the caveat that you should stick with it through the beginning until you get into a flow.  And take a break if you need it.  Take a break, but don’t give up.

This is actually part two of the madeleine story, because it was this passage that sent me down the path towards making madeleines for the boys.  I had seen the recipe in my cookbook, but it was this passage in A Manual For Cleaning Women that really made me stop and think about making them.

“I could still smell him.  The pong of him was madeleine-like for me, bringing back Grandpa and Uncle John, for starters.”

Using that iconic madeleine image to describe the alcoholic workman re-tiling the bathroom in her trailer was so gross and brilliant.  It made me wish the author was still alive and teaching at CU.  I would have enrolled in a class just to meet her if it wasn’t too late.

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* I’m behind on my puppy/book photo shoots and this was was almost all outtakes