The cover flap of Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work by Jeanne Marie Laskas begins with this teaser:
Five hundred feet underground, Jeanne Marie Laskas asked a coal miner named Smitty, “Do you think it’s weird that people know so little about you?” He replied, “I don’t think people know too much about the way the whole damn country works.”
One of the newest additions to the growing “behind-the-scenes at work” genre, Hidden America is a series of essays that provide a peek into the quirks and demands of several jobs that are unfamiliar to the average American. Delve in to learn more about:
- coal miners
- migrant workers and life in a labor camp
- Ben-Gals cheerleaders
- air traffic controllers
- sporting goods stores and the culture of gun ownership
- oil rigs
- long distance truckers
Laskas spent weeks in each setting, learning the work and meeting the people whose job it is to do the labor every day. More than anything, the essays are character studies; sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, always engaging. While I was at times left wishing for more information about the technical aspects of the work described, as written, the book is very accessible and full of intriguing details. Local readers may be surprised to learned that despite all of the time they put into practice and promotional events, the only compensation the Ben-Gals cheerleaders receive is $75.00 per game. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many will be startled to read that a migrant laborer picking blueberries in Maine can earn as much as $1,350.00 per week, though this is far from typical for most crops. Imagining days spent in a mine with ceilings that don’t exceed five feet, or on an oil rig off the frigid shores of Alaska’s North Slope, will leave you amazed that there are people who actually enjoy working in these environments. Would you believe that many of the people employed at Puente Hills Landfill in California cite being close to nature as one of their favorite things about working there? To sample a bit of her writing style and see pictures that compliment her essays, visit Laskas’ website.
DISCLAIMER: Nervous flyers may want to skip the chapter on air traffic controllers. It’s fascinating and you’ll be impressed when you meet the controllers, but you’ll never again be able to board a plane blissfully unaware of all of the high level logistics required to keep planes from crashing into each other!
You might be an introvert if:
- you favor 1-on-1 conversations over group activities
- would rather communicate by writing than by speaking
- you hate open floor plan work environments
- you feel drained after being out and about, especially with a lot of people
- lemon juice makes you salivate, A LOT*
Sound familiar? Are you an introvert? Or, maybe, you’re an extrovert struggling to understand the motivations of the introverts in your life. Introvert or extrovert, anyone who likes to read about how our personalities are formed and the things that make us tick, should check out Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Discover the physiological and cultural differences that predict our personality-type. Get insights on how to be successful as an introvert in the today’s American culture which emphasizes the ‘Extrovert Ideal.’ Learn about the special strengths (and struggles) that come with being either an introvert or an extrovert. Glean insights on how to find success in relationships with introverted family members, children, students, and co-workers.
*Curious about the lemon juice? Check out page 124.
“I found things in the woods that I didn’t know I was looking for… and now I’ll never be the same.” – Jennifer Pharr Davis
Armchair travelers, nature enthusiasts, and anyone with wanderlust might be interested in Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis (trail name: Odyssa). In 2005, as a recent college graduate, Davis decided to thru-hike alone all 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail. With this memoir, you can join Davis on her four month journey. Discover the daily trials of cooking, sleeping, and hygiene. Commiserate as Davis makes her way through blizzards, seemingly endless rain, swarming bugs, rock fields, injury, illness, and equipment failures. Delight in her encounters with wild ponies, moose, Trail Angels, and fellow hikers. From a terrifying occurrence in New Jersey to a trail romance, Davis experiences the extremes that both humanity and nature have to offer on her route to becoming Odyssa.
In her memoir, Davis asks, “What did Odysseus do when he got home?” Well, Odyssa went on to hike over 11,000 miles on long distance trails on six continents. Thur-hiking the Appalachian Trail twice more, this past summer Davis took the Overall Appalachian Trail Record, accomplishing the entire trail in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes! Follow her adventures, and see how she came so far so fast, on her blog.
Intrigued by the prospect of hiking the Appalachian Trail? The library has lot of other books for you to check out on the subject.