Counter Culture in Publishers Weekly

Great review of Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress by Candacy A. Taylor in September 7, 2009 online edition of Publishers Weekly:

“Oral historian, photographer and former waitress Taylor turned her aching joints into the springboard for a mission: uncovering the experiences of diner waitresses in this sociological overview. Most are “lifers,” now senior citizens who abhor the idea of retirement. Others may see these women as uneducated service workers, but waitresses see themselves as psychologists, nurses, and family to their beloved regulars, who expect a little sass with their ham and eggs. Along with their extraordinary work ethic and oversized personalities, there are reminders of the occupational reality of below-minimum wages (which must be supplemented by substantial tips) and lack of medical and retirement benefits (which might be one reason these lifers just can’t stay away from their greasy spoons). With color photographs (mostly by Taylor) of waitresses in their diners on almost every page plus feisty first-person anecdotes about how the women handle nasty customers and customers who sneak out without paying the bill (one waitress threw a ketchup bottle at them), this unique perspective is much like the professional diner waitress–difficult to pigeonhole, impossible to ignore.”

Counter Culture was also featured as one of the “Indie Top 20” books in Publishers Weekly on August 31:
“This book has been eight years and 26,000 miles in the making, and we are very proud to be publishing it,” says publicist Jonathan Hall. What appeals to Ron Watson, lead buyer of the university press group at Ingram, about Taylor’s photographic homage to career waitresses is that it offers “great social history in a very commercial package at a bargain trade paperback price.”

Counter Culture in Publishers Weekly

Condensed Capitalism on Truthout

On the Truthout blog, Condensed Capitalism: Campbell Soup and the Pursuit of Cheap Production in the Twentieth Century by Daniel Sidorick is reviewed by Seth Sandronsky, who points out the timeliness of this particular example of well-done labor history:

“This book is useful to the Facebook generation. It is entering a labor market where owners use automation and the speed-up to intensify the working day and wring more profits from the increased productivity. It almost sounds like the 1930’s, when workers at Campbell and at firms across the US rose up to form labor unions where none existed. Almost.”

Read the whole review here.

Condensed Capitalism on Truthout

James T. Fisher speaks about Karl Malden in the Irish Echo

In an article published before the news of Karl Malden’s death was known, Peter McDermott of the Irish Echo interviews James T. Fisher, author of On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York, about the Rev. John M. “Pete” Corridan. Corridan, the priest upon whom Malden’s character in On the Waterfront was modeled, died 25 years ago, on July 1, 1984:

Remembering Fr. Pete

James T. Fisher speaks about Karl Malden in the Irish Echo

Agitate! Educate! Organize! on PopMatters

On the PopMatters blog, Emily F. Popek reviews Agitate! Educate! Organize!: American Labor Posters by Lincoln Cushing and Timothy W. Drescher. She writes: “The core of this book is obviously the images it contains. Vivid, striking, colorful, arresting and at times even shocking, these posters speak loudly with voices of sorrow, righteousness, defiance and humor. Having such images recorded in digital form and archived with information about when, where and by whom they were created is of incalculable value to those who study American history or the history of populist visual art forms.” Read the whole review here.

Agitate! Educate! Organize! on PopMatters

Counter Culture: Candacy Taylor blog and Q & A

Visit Candacy Taylor’s new blog for her book Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress here.

We recently conducted an interview with Candacy Taylor in which she provides insights about the world captured in her book:

Q: Why career waitresses?

A: I am interested in career waitresses because it’s assumed by most people that it’s a job that anyone can do, but statistics report that only 1 in every 100 are really cut out for the job. I was a waitress myself for almost 8 years and after being exhausted after working a busy Friday night shift, I thought to myself, “How do women do this work past retirement age and how do they feel about their jobs?”

Q: What surprised you the most about this project?

A: Based on my own waitressing experience, I expected to meet women who felt overworked and underappreciated, but that’s not what I found. All but a few said they loved their jobs and if given the opportunity, they “wouldn’t do anything else.” Jean, a San Francisco waitress, said, “Like an actress, this is what I was born to do.” I thought, how can this be true? Waitressing can be grueling. And where were all the complaints about carpal tunnel syndrome and varicose veins? After five more years of research and listening to heartfelt testimonies about the job, I took a closer look at their lives. I analyzed their work environment. I studied theorists, academics, and historians who wrote about sociology, gender, labor, and restaurants. I considered that, although we had the same job, an older waitress’s experience might be different from mine because we were raised in a different time. There were benefits to working in a casual environment, and career waitresses knew the tricks of the trade to make the job easier.

Q: Even if they like the work, isn’t it hard to make a living?

A: In many cases, their seniority status earned them a higher hourly wage and respect from their coworkers and managers. Ironically, the physical and mental exercise that waitressing demands keeps them healthy instead of wearing them down, and most important, their regular customers made the job more enjoyable and profitable, they left better tips than strangers who were just passing through. Most of the career waitresses I interviewed were financially stable homeowners, drove newer cars, and many had sent their children to private schools. In general, these women were not struggling financially.

Q: Where did you go?

A: I traveled over 26,000 miles throughout the US. I have interviewed fifty-nine waitresses in forty-three cities.

Q: How are career waitresses different?

A: Career waitresses do more than just bring the food to the table. They are part psychiatrist, part grandmother, part friend, and they serve every walk of American life: from the retired and the widowed, to the wounded and the lonely and from the working class to the wealthy. These women have made an “art” out of the job. They warm the coffee cup for their favorite regular customers. They bring in special goodies from home, like chocolate syrup for their regulars’ ice cream or home-baked cookies. Their regulars practically worship them and will follow their favorite waitress from restaurant to restaurant her entire career. They are in a different league than most waitresses who are working until a “real” job comes along.

Q: What makes this book different from other books about waitresses?

A: Counter Culture is not a scholarly study, a memoir, or a historical account of waitressing. And even though there are photographs throughout the book, it’s more than a coffee-table book of a pop culture icon. It combines interview excerpts, cultural criticism, photography, and oral history to recognize an overlooked group of working women who have brought meaning to the American roadside dining experience. Each chapter takes a critical look at how career waitresses have taken a job that many people avoid and made it their livelihood.

Q: What did you learn most from doing this book?

A: Most importantly, I learned that fulfillment is not found in a 401(k) or a 5,000-square-foot house. Life is what you make it. So the next time you see a sixty-some-year-old waitress wiping down a table in a diner, don’t feel sorry for her. More likely than not, she’s content right where she is. Take it from Ruthie, a sixty-four-year old waitress in Sparks, Nevada, who says, “I just wish I had another thirty-five years to do it all over again.”

Counter Culture: Candacy Taylor blog and Q & A

My Word! in the Wall Street Journal

My Word! by Susan Blum is featured in the April 16, 2009 issue of the Wall Street Journal. A link to the article appears below, but here’s an excerpt:

Like Margaret Mead among the Samoans, Ms. Blum views her subjects — “digital natives” — as an exotic species. She notes their constant use of email, text messaging and the Internet. She declares them to be “the wordiest and most writerly generation in a long while” and anoints their conversational tendency to quote TV shows and films an admirable form of “intertextuality.” They are “storming the barricades” of a new digital future, she claims, using the Internet to engage in collaborative work and to expand their knowledge base. She finds the hapless faculty members charged with teaching such students “embattled and bewildered.” In other words: Get Twittering, grandma.

Ms. Blum also embraces various postmodern theories of plagiarism. Internet-savvy, intertextual ingénues don’t steal words; they engage in “patchwriting” and “pastiche,” constructing essays the way they create eclectic music playlists for their iPods. This practice, she argues, can be viewed as a form of homage or reverence as much as theft. In fact, as Ms. Blum’s research demonstrates, students today view writing — however we might define such a thing in a “pastiche” culture — as a purely instrumental activity: a means to an end.

It’s Not Theft, It’s Pastiche by Christine Rosen

My Word! in the Wall Street Journal

Awaiting the Heavenly Country in the New York Review of Books

The April 17, 2008, issue of the New York Review of Books features a review article by James M. McPherson in which he considers Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America’s Culture of Death by Mark S. Schantz alongside This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust. Here’s a quote: “[Schantz] write[s] about that harvest of death . . . with insight and sensitivity—even eloquence.”

Awaiting the Heavenly Country in the New York Review of Books