Thursday, July 26, 2007

Work and Other Sins by Charlie LeDuff

As you can probably see from the bookshot, the subtitle of this book is "Life in New York City and Thereabouts" -- and I can't resist a book that uses words like "thereabouts."

Work and Other Sins is a collection of reportage by a New York Times reporter...but I'm not sure how this guy ever got a job on the Times, since his instincts and tastes clearly run towards the working-class, the blue-collar, and the dirty-handed. His stories, in tone, subject, and style, are the opposite of everyone's mental image of the high-toned, snooty Times. He writes a bit like his generation's version of Pete Hamill or Jimmy Breslin, except you never get the sense that he's straining for poetic effect, as those two sometimes do. LeDuff just tells the stories that he finds.

This book collects a large number of pieces written for the Times (one spiked, and first appearing here) from 1996 through 2002. They mostly focus on working-class people: on their jobs (lots of firefighters and bartenders, but also florists, gravediggers, and commercial fishermen), and their lives in the bar, at the racetrack, and sometimes at home. I wouldn't say that LeDuff is writing about "low-lifes," exactly -- these people have their own pride, and a sense of their own lives, and LeDuff respects and understand them -- but I bet most Times reader wouldn't hesitate a second before considering them such. This book contains a lot of good reportage about the kind of New Yorkers that Manhattanites mostly think are fit only to get tipped at Christmas, if that.

The years covered in this book include 2001 and 2002, which, of course, means 9/11 casts its shadow over some parts. LeDuff did some strong reporting both at the WTC site and in a longer-term series about a firefighter's widow -- as I said, he sympathizes with working men, so he's a good choice to report on how 9/11 affected New York.

LeDuff has a lean, no-nonsense style; he's trying to report what's happening, not call a lot of attention to himself. (There's a strain of look-I'm-a-Hemingwayesque-real-man in there once in a while, but not often.) His voice is lower-class middle-America, which makes him closer to the people he's reporting on and gives their stories the authenticity of felt experience rather than the tawdry glamor of slumming. He's a good reporter of stories about people, period.

(I see from the short bio in the book that he's now with the Times's LA bureau, which is not what I'd expect...though, from searching on his name on the Times site, I find that he was doing a series of stories across America called "American Album" through last November.)

I suspect I like reportage, and New York City stories, much more than the people who read my blog. OK, that's fair. But LeDuff is really good at what he does, so, if you have any interest at all in this stuff, he's a great guy to try.


One last thing: I've finally broken down and I'm trying to set up an Amazon affiliate thingy for Antick Musings. (We'll see if they accept me.) I've never made a penny out of this site, but, with things as they are now, I'm hoping it can at least help to pay for the books I ramble on about. (I don't intend to add advertising any time soon; I don't think this blog has enough traffic to make that worthwhile, and I don't like the look of Google AdSense ads, either.) So, if the books I write about intrigue you, now you could buy them directly through a link. (Or just pop over to Amazon to see what other people think -- I'm not going to change what I say about books to get a nickel or two.)

1 comment:

Michael A. Burstein said...

I'm always looking for books with a New York City spin.

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