Friday, January 22, 2016

Book review: Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlin

What do you want to do with your life? I have interns and I am a mentor to a college student and they hear this question constantly. I think most people who ask are well-intentioned  but it's very stressful for them. Are any of us ever really sure we're in the right career? The right job? I've been in one field for all of my adult life (book publishing) but I've changed department drastically several times (buying-editing-sales-editing). My husband is in the process of major career change right now (from teacher to social worker).

Nina is a writer at a local website/newspaper in Boston. Mostly she just clicks on things all day long. At first she likes it, but then she doesn't. And she might want to change. Or might not. She's just not sure. But then she quits her job. And she doesn't have anything else lined up. While she's trying to figure out her next career move, she's looking for small freelance gigs on the side to keep the rent paid, and she runs across an ad looking for a carpenters assistant, women preferred. She applies. It's a rather longish process where she needs to write long essays a few times, but she eventually gets the job, working with Mary, a journeyman carpenter, across the city on various and sundry projects, ranging from tiling a bathroom to a complete kitchen makeover to building a new porch. Nina knows next to nothing about carpentry at first (seriously, I know more than she does, and I've only ever built a birdhouse when I was eight, unless you count putting together unassembled furniture, which I am quite good at and enjoy.) Mary is a terrific mentor, never making Nina feel badly, encouraging Nina to figure things out for herself, and you can see her pride when Nina finally gets how to do a certain thing. There are some rough patches of course, but in the end, Nina find carpentry work to be fulfilling in a way that website writing never does. Obviously, she doesn't give up writing altogether (or there'd be no book to read!) but it seems like Nina will probably stick with it and continue working with wood for the foreseeable future.

The memoir is well-written with great descriptions and brilliant comparisons. She doesn't over-analyze things, she stays on topic (to the point where you find out nothing about her boyfriend), and she finds her center which is gratifying to this reader. She makes me want to go to Lowe's and do a few repairs around my own home!

I checked this book out of the library.

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