It was the cover that got me.
Last summer, I received a wonderful birthday gift from the daughter and her family — a six-month free “trial” of Book of the Month Club. That meant I would get to choose one new hardcover book a month — absolutely free — and about a week later, a beautiful navy blue box would arrive at the post office.
Hurriedly browsing through January’s selections, I chose a book based totally on its cover.
I almost never read nonfiction for pleasure, and even more infrequently read “memoirs.”
Like much of the reading public, I was completely duped by James Frey’s fake memoir, “In a Million Little Pieces,” in 2003.
But “Maid — hard work, low pay and a mother’s will to survive,” grabbed me with its “clean,” plain jacket — just a little bit of type and a dusty pair of yellow cleaning gloves.
“Maid,” is a stunning read, already having climbed to No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list in its first week.
There are many good things about it.
Practically, it can be used as a tutorial for house cleaning, left to right, top to bottom, no matter which room it is. It turns out professionals use a surprisingly limited number of old-fashioned cleaning products.
Financially, it can be used as a guide to starting your own cleaning business, how to make a ton of money and keep your employees working hard and below the poverty level.
Emotionally, it can serve as a blueprint for those times when you think you just cannot possibly take one more hit to your checking account, or emergency fund, or mechanic.
But mostly, it made me think. On many levels.
The author, Stephanie Land, lived in the Pacific Northwest and dreamed of living in Missoula, Montana.
Pregnant without any reliable family support, she and her infant daughter left an abusive relationship with the girl’s father and set out to survive.
At one point, she relied on seven kinds of government assistance — seven — while working nonstop to provide just the basics of living for her and her daughter. She never gave up her dream, and while living day-to-day was frequently a real and frightening struggle, her will to improve her circumstance drove her.
So how do you treat folks who clean for you? Stephanie says if she were ever in a position to hire a cleaner herself, she’d tip them, offer them food, leave them small gifts.
She didn’t even meet many of her clients. Instead, she imagined what their lives were like based upon their houses.
She received small gifts — two live lobsters, a folded bill pressed into her hand — infrequently.
And she had to use her minimum wage to pay for gas to get to and from jobs, often spread out and rural.
How do you look upon people in the checkout line who pay with a SNAP card, which replaced the old “food stamps” system. Do you inspect what they are buying? Do you wonder why they are “not working?”
And if you are a landlord, do you charge a fair price for a clean, healthy, livable space? In one studio, both Stephanie and her toddler were frequently sick because of perpetual black mold seeping through a damp crawlspace.
This book is a must-read — for women, for men who are potential fathers, for parents who emotionally abandon their grown children, for employers.
The next time I scrub — left to right, top to bottom — I will think of Stephanie and her daughter, and the remarkable way in which they survived.