Books about day-to-day operations of a small business
September 21, 2012 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Book recommendations requested: I liked My Korean Deli, which went into considerable detail about the day-to-day operation of a small convenience store.

For some reason I really like learning about the inner workings of unflashy little businesses like this and seeing what other people's working lives are like. What other books might I like that go into similar detail about other types of small businesses (but not tech startups or similar businesses that are small but trying to be big)? I am mainly looking for narratives but am open to other kinds of books as well.
posted by enn to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: They may be a bit dated now, but Tracy Kidder has several books that I think will scratch this itch:

* Soul of a New Machine about the creation of a new computer at Data General (features Jessamyn's dad, Tom West, by the way)
* House focuses on the construction of a family's first house (more interesting than you'd think)
* Among Schoolchildren is a behind-the-scenes view of a fifth-grade classroom

They all came out in the 1980s, I think, so they also sort of serve as historical documents at this point as well.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:54 AM on September 21, 2012

Best answer: In the early 90s, Susan Orlean wrote a wonderful, mindblowingly thorough piece about a supermarket in Jackson Heights, Queens. I read it in the (subscribers-only) New Yorker archive, but it's also reprinted in her book "My Kind of Place." The article is called "All Mixed Up"-- highly recommended.
posted by neroli at 9:22 AM on September 21, 2012

Best answer: The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is all about Chinese food in America and has a really fascinating chapter on Chinese restaurants and the crazy network of Chinese immigrants who are dispatched across the country to work in them.

You might also like Michael Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef and The Soul of a Chef. The first is about his experience at the Culinary Institute of America, and the second describes the CIA's Master Chef Exam and has in-depth looks at how Michael Symons and Thomas Keller became chefs and how they work. They're not about small businesses, as such, but definitely give you the same close-up, case study-type looks at how these particular professionals work.

I loved My Korean Deli too, so thanks for asking this question!
posted by apricot at 9:27 AM on September 21, 2012

Best answer: If you are interesting in personal perspectives on the everyday feel of different occupations not just limited to small businesses, I suggest Working by Studs Terkel.
posted by Dansaman at 10:36 AM on September 21, 2012

Best answer: Another interesting thing about Terkel's Working is how different things are now than in the 70s, when the book was published (1974). Definitely recommended. And IIRC, it has an interview with an actual Mom and Pop.
posted by scratch at 10:49 AM on September 21, 2012

I learned (right here in AskMe!) that a common term for this genre as a whole is "literary non-fiction", which might help if you're also googling for books. I think Barnes and Noble has a Business Narrative (or something similarly titled) which may have more of what you're looking for.
posted by booksherpa at 11:37 AM on September 21, 2012

David Simon's "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets," which was the inspiration for both TV shows "Homicide: Life on the Streets" and Simon's creation "The Wire," was about about a year he spent with the Homicide unit of the Baltimore PD. It focuses on the job and the people who can do the job. Crimesolving is a small business that selects its employees very carefully, and this book does give you a look at the day-to-day. Simon also wrote "The Corner," about the day-to-day life of a corner drug dealer; I haven't read it, but it's as acclaimed as "Homicide" is, at least.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:51 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter is a really interesting take on the restaurant biz, through the lens of Hamilton's restaurant and her autobiography in general (and she is a very talented writer).

While not about a business per se, Stacy Horn's The Restless Sleep is a good look at how detectives investigate cold cases.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:23 PM on September 21, 2012

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