Nina MacLaughlin spent her twenties working at a Boston newspaper, sitting behind a desk and staring at a screen. Yearning for more tangible work, she applied for a job she saw on Craigslist-- Carpenter's Assistant: Women strongly encouraged to apply --despite being a Classics major who couldn't tell a Phillips from a flathead screwdriver.Read more...
Nina MacLaughlin spent her twenties working at a Boston newspaper, sitting behind a desk and staring at a screen. Yearning for more tangible work, she applied for a job she saw on Craigslist--Carpenter's Assistant: Women strongly encouraged to apply--despite being a Classics major who couldn't tell a Phillips from a flathead screwdriver. She got the job, and in Hammer Head she tells the rich and entertaining story of becoming a carpenter.
Writing with infectious curiosity, MacLaughlin describes the joys and frustrations of making things by hand, reveals the challenges of working as a woman in an occupation that is 99 percent male, and explains how manual labor changed the way she sees the world. We meet her unflappable mentor, Mary, a petite but tough carpenter-sage ("Be smarter than the tools "), as well as wild demo dudes, foul-mouthed plumbers, grizzled hardware store clerks, and the colorful clients whose homes she and Mary work in.
Whisking her readers from job to job--building a wall, remodeling a kitchen, gut-renovating a house--MacLaughlin examines the history of the tools she uses and the virtues and varieties of wood. Throughout, she draws on the wisdom of Ovid, Annie Dillard, Studs Terkel, and Mary Oliver to illuminate her experience of work. And, in a deeply moving climax, MacLaughlin strikes out on her own for the first time to build bookshelves for her own father.
Hammer Head is a passionate book full of sweat, swearing, bashed thumbs, and a deep sense of finding real meaning in work and life.
- ISBN-13: 9780393239133
- ISBN-10: 0393239136
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
- Publish Date: March 2015
- Page Count: 240
- Dimensions: 8.33 x 6.45 x 0.99 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.74 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-10-20
- Reviewer: Staff
A Boston newspaperwoman transformed herself into a carpenter’s assistant and found new satisfaction working with her hands rather than molding words. In her light narrative, in which the former classics major wisely and sparingly employs allusions to Ovid and Vitruvius, MacLaughlin recounts her quirky journey, after seven years at the Phoenix, to landing an improbable job at age 30 as assistant to the highly trained carpenter, Mary, a petite, self-described “43-year-old married lesbian.” Mary’s patience and encouragement on numerous jobs in the Boston area, like kitchen and bathroom renovations, moving walls, tiling and ripping out floors and stairs, over many seasons with MacLaughlin allowed the author to grow and learn and even master carpentry work on her own. The author quotes Gabriel García Márquez calling literature “nothing but carpentry.... With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood,” yet Márquez had actually never worked with wood, while the author finds enormous release in hands-on labor free of words. Moreover, women make up only about 2% of the male-dominated profession of carpenter, MacLaughlin cites, thus rendering enormous interest in this painstaking work so lovingly delineated. (Mar.)