"Confessions of a ...?"
April 4, 2015 2:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm a big fan of Kitchen Confidential and other "insider", confessional-type memoirs. After just finishing the rather disappointing Heads In Beds, I need recommendations for some really juicy tell-all memoirs about working in the service industry or pretty much anything interesting.

I love memoirs in general, and after following a link, I downloaded and quickly consumed Heads In Beds today, but while it was mildly entertaining, it lacked any really juicy stories, horrifying facts, or truly insider tips. It's left me in the mood for some really good "Confessions of..." type books.
Browsing Amazon, there are tons of these kind of books, but it's hard to tell which ones have the real deep down dirty goods that are the most entertaining. I see lots of restaurant/hospitality/flight attendant books, but any interesting, quirky or unusual subject is great, I just want to be directed to the best ones.

I prefer to download ebooks for Kindle on Amazon, but don't hesitate to recommend books only available in other formats/from other vendors.

Please, lay your recommendations for the juiciest, gossipiest tell-alls on me!

Bonus: As a lover of memoirs in general, if there are any other quirky, interesting and/or hilarious memoirs, on any subject, that you love, please tell me about them!
posted by catatethebird to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 155 users marked this as a favorite
Heat by Bill Buford talks about the time he spent as a line cook under Mario Batali. Lots of bad behavior.
posted by jessamyn at 2:16 PM on April 4, 2015 [11 favorites]

Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica is a well-written book.
posted by saturdaymornings at 2:17 PM on April 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I loved Waiting by Debra Ginsburg about her 20+ years waitressing.
posted by bookmammal at 2:18 PM on April 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I haven't read it, but Blood, Bones & Butter is supposed to be very good, and comes with a stellar review from Bourdain.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 2:26 PM on April 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Me again . . . for something non-food related, try Shelf Life by Suzanne Strempak Shea. As a former bookseller, I can tell you that it's a very true-to-life (and entertaining) account of what it's really like to work in a bookstore.
posted by bookmammal at 2:27 PM on April 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Gawker site Kitchenette has Behind Closed Ovens every Monday.
posted by brujita at 2:39 PM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mozart in the Jungle for a classical musician. Quite juicy.
posted by Melismata at 2:43 PM on April 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I haven't read it, but Blood, Bones & Butter is supposed to be very good, and comes with a stellar review from Bourdain.

I have and it is spectacular. Gorgeously written, too.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:50 PM on April 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cruising Altitude by Heather Poole (disclosure: she works for the same airline I do, but I've never met her) is full of juicy tidbits about working as a flight attendant, and is totally on point about what it's like.
posted by jaksemas at 3:02 PM on April 4, 2015

Rachel Dratch of SNL fame is no great writer, but her Girl Walks Into A Bar memoir is an interesting peek into the life of an "unattractive woman" in showbiz (i.e. quite nice looking woman by everyday standards but one who is pigeonholed as "the ugly one" in TV roles). It gets boring when it transitions into her story of motherhood but the first half is worth reading if you've ever watched SNL. (I'd check this out of the library but not buy it.)
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 3:11 PM on April 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Older, but "Call the Midwife" (on which the TV series is based) is three memoirs about being a midwife in London's East End in 1950. They are engrossing, fascinating, horrifying, uplifting, and very clear-eyed in depicting the poverty, prostitution, violence, misogyny, etc., of the time and place. (I mean, I was honestly a bit taken aback at how straightforward the author is sometimes; people usually write around the ugliest parts of life a little bit, but she does not.)

In the same vein of slightly older and British, James Herriot's (lightly fictionalized) classic books about working as a rural vet from the 1930s through 1960s is chock-full of veterinary trivia and has enormous numbers of passages where he's stripped to his underwear and up to his shoulder in cow uterus rolling around on a barn floor. (I think as a child I must have read an expurgated-for-children version with a lot less graphic description of sticking-of-arms-inside-of-animals.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:14 PM on April 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh and Through The Narrow Gate by Karen Armstrong is a fascinating memoir by a nun who loses her faith. Raw, honest (and kind of scary!) description of convent life from the inside.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 3:15 PM on April 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Any subject? Ghosting by Jennie Erdal?
I argued that sex in the novel was nearly always bad sex, and that it was best avoided. "You are talking like a nun!" he said. "What's got into you? Trust me, Beloved, we will do the sex beautifully! It will be very distinguished."
posted by glasseyes at 3:21 PM on April 4, 2015

Mouse Tales
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:21 PM on April 4, 2015

These previous questions might give you some ideas too.
posted by humph at 4:05 PM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Big Dead Place, by Nicholas Johnson
When Johnson went to work for the U.S. Antarctic Program (devoted to scientific research and education in support of the national interest in the Antarctic), he figured he'd find adventure, beauty, penguins and lofty-minded scientists. Instead, he found boredom, alcohol and bureaucracy. As a dishwasher and garbage man at McMurdo Station, Johnson quickly shed his illusions about Antarctica. Since he and his co-workers seldom ventured beyond the station's grim, functional buildings, they spent most of their time finding ways to entertain themselves, drinking beer, bowling and making home movies. The dormlike atmosphere, complete with sexual hijinks and obscene costume parties, sometimes made life there feel like "a cheap knock-off of some original meaty experience." What dangers there were existed mostly in the psychological realm; most people who were there through the winter developed the "Antarctica stare," an unnerving tendency to forget what they were saying mid-sentence and gaze dumbly at the station walls. And if the cold and isolation didn't drive one crazy, the petty hatreds and mindless red tape might. Though occasionally rambling and uneven, this memoir offers an insider's look at a place that few people know anything about and fewer still have ever seen.
posted by rtha at 4:29 PM on April 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

On the subject of ghosting there's Andrew O'Hagan's account of working with Assange on his memoir that didn't happen - London Review of Books, Ghosting, 26468 words. Quirky certainly, dunno if entertaining's quite the right word.
posted by glasseyes at 4:45 PM on April 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Under and Alone, the story of an ATF agent who joins the Mongols MC club is superb and a quick read.
posted by qsysopr at 6:37 PM on April 4, 2015

Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder. Recent college grad, of illustrious academic family, is working in publishing in crime-ridden 1980s NYC and starts lifting weights to gain confidence walking around town. Pretty soon, he's moved to LA and is body building full time. Great story, great writing.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:08 PM on April 4, 2015

I really loved Marcus Samuelsson's memoir, Yes Chef. Cooking, culture, some tell-all bits - good stuff.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:44 PM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I liked Bringing Home the Birkin. It seems like you're looking for something somewhat dark, and BHTB is not really dark, but it is detailed. I learned a ton about something I didn't even know I didn't know about and wouldn't have anticipated wanting to know about (the mechanisms of Hermes, what a Birkin bag is, professional selling on eBay, the Barcelona vibe) and was entertained the whole time. As he tells it, the author came to his career of selling on eBay as a full-time job accidentally and so takes us on that journey. (I also read Heads in Beds and know exactly what you mean about the disappointment...)
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:10 PM on April 4, 2015

Lee Server's Old Hollywood biographies on Ava Gardner and Robert Mitchum have oodles of dirt and anecdote, and get into how the star machines actually worked.

Also on movies, but quite different, Antonia Quirke's memoir (Kissing Marlon Brando in the US, Madame Depardieu & the Beautiful Strangers in the UK) is hilarious.

Joshua Gamson's The Fabulous Sylvester is not only a biography of one of 70s disco's greatest stars, it has priceless stories of the illegal drag scene in 60s LA and background music biz machinations.

Kate Bornstein's recent memoir A Queer and Pleasant Danger has a lot on what the inner circles of Scientology were like in the 70s. The other sections, on her childhood and becoming a trans icon, are also great.

Michelle Tea's Rent Girl is another favourite.

(Edit: I don't think anyone's added Ruth Reichl's Garlic & Sapphires, about being an undercover food critic, and MFK Fisher, the greatest food writer of all.)
posted by Gin and Broadband at 1:28 AM on April 5, 2015

Diablo Cody's Candy Girl, about her time as a stripper, is great.
posted by lunasol at 5:09 AM on April 5, 2015

Grant Achatz, Life on the Line. The writing is not stellar on the part of either author-- Achatz's voice alternates with that of Nick Kokonas, his business partner and they're both mostly just getting the job done and the story told. But it's a fantastic story.
posted by BibiRose at 6:54 AM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can't believe no-one's mentioned the Babylon series based on true confessions in the hotel, resort, fashion etc industry -- fantastic you-couldn't-make-it-up, juicy stuff:

Hotel Babylon

Fashion Babylon

Restaurant Babylon

Hospital Babylon

Pop Babylon, Air Babylon and Beach Babylon ... the best is probably Hotel Babylon and it comes with a passable bonus TV adaptation.
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 7:24 AM on April 5, 2015

Strip City, by Lily Burana. About the cross-country "farewell tour" that she embarks on as a way to say goodbye to her stripping career; part memoir, part social history. She's been a punk music critic and a sex worker organizer and has a sister who's a Presbyterian minister. Well written and thoughtful.
posted by virago at 11:02 AM on April 5, 2015

The Hubble Wars dishes the dirt on the infighting and politics during the commissioning of the Hubble Space Telescope.
posted by Sophont at 12:20 PM on April 5, 2015

I found myself shocked at how much I enjoyed Open, Andre Agassi's autobiography. Definitely gives you insight into the world of pro tennis.

Also liked The Glass Castle, which is a memoir about a family, not an industry. But a good read nonetheless.
posted by nadise at 12:42 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seconding Rent Girl! There is no end to sex worker memoirs and so many of them are pretty lame (Whip Smart was pretty disappointing) but Michelle Tea is amazing.
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:09 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm With The Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres is the quintessential juicy tell-all memoir. I loved it.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:50 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not exactly service work, but Cockpit Confidential was a pretty good read of what it's like to be a pilot doing international routes. You'd think a pilot's life is glamorous and they make lots of money, but the reality is they have to spend at least a decade or two making less than a school teacher to work up to "the big show" and it was fascinating to hear lots about the background of how planes operate and how the industry really works and what parts are annoying to pilots too.
posted by mathowie at 8:41 AM on May 2, 2015

Very late but from the files of friends I didn't know were MeFites, a friend pointed me to this thread when I was asking him a similar question.
I did like Heads in beds so these might not be what you're looking for but some in the vein I enjoyed:
*Working Stiff - Judy Melinek. She was a fellow in the ME's office in NYC during 9/11
*Michael Fazio's Concierge Confidential
*Big Fancy and Return to Big Fancy by Freeman Hall. I loved the first and hated the second because he began to drive me crazy.
posted by TravellingCari at 11:59 AM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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