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January 30, 2014 Edition

Picking Up

Written by Robin Nagle

How important are sanitation workers in a city as big as New York? Well, to paraphrase one New York City san man, “if you’re lucky, you can go a lifetime without calling a cop or a fireman, but you can’t go without a sanitation worker for even one day.” And Nagle, an urban anthropologist, goes on to discover the truth of that statement by immersing herself in the world of the DSNY, first interviewing and shadowing employees and ultimately by going through the application and testing process to work on a truck herself. Readers go behind the scenes with her, learning the importance of sturdy gloves and boots and uniform, the hierarchy of baskets versus household collection versus running relays to the landfill. We learn all the things that make sanitation the 4th riskiest job, just after fishing and before law enforcement. And we get a look at the long history of sanitation and garbage collection, from the earliest days of Jamestown to today. Cringe-inducing, but fascinating.

Prisoners of the White House

Written by Kenneth T. Walsh

America’s presidents, elected by the people, for the people, are often criticized for being out of touch. Walsh examines the reasons that many presidents have traditionally found it very difficult to stay close to their constituents once they begin their residency in the White House. Insulated both for their own safety and by of the demands of the job, some presidents slip away easily and end up relying on those surrounding them and polling results to tell them how they’re doing, while others try their best to keep one foot in the real world. Organized into groups, rather than chronologically, Walsh contrasts the presidencies of Johnson, Nixon, Carter, G.H.W. Bush, F.D.R, Truman, Reagan, Clinton, Kennedy, G.W. Bush, and Obama by the lengths to which they were willing and able to go, and the extent to which their efforts were successful, in maintaining, reading, and using their connections outside the White House.

The Birth of an Opera

Written by Michael Rose

Opera lovers, rejoice! This sprightly tome covers the creation of 15 classic operas, from opening word to opening night. Rose, joint author with Hanns Hammelmann of the BBC radio series by the same name brings his lifetime of experience in music to bear, teasing out the most meaningful bits of each opera’s creation. Told as short narratives and fleshed out with quotations from the composers and their contemporaries, this is much more lively a book than one might expect, given its mission of placing the composers, their inspirations, and their compositions in historical and cultural context.

The Best Film You’ve Never Seen

Written by Robert K. Elder

Thirty-five directors. Thirty-five forgotten, unappreciated, or critically panned films. Thirty-five reasons to track down and watch movies with a fresh eye. Elder interviews filmmakers to discover their recommendations for unsung classics and turns up some interesting results – everything from B-movies to art films to Oscar winners are represented here. Kevin Smith, director of Clerks, for instance, names A Man for All Seasons as his most underappreciated film, and his defense of his choice is fascinating to read. Jonathan Levine, who directed Warm Bodies, chooses Can’t Stop the Music, (starring the Village People) purely for its entertainment value and its look at 1970s disco culture. And Frank Oz, director of more than muppets, trumpets The Trial, a film by Orson Welles based on a book by Franz Kafka. Pick this up not only for the films, but to learn more about the filmmakers who choose them.

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