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April 20, 2008|Susan Salter Reynolds

Quiet, Please

Dispatches From a Public Librarian

Scott Douglas

Da Capo: 330 pp., $25

SO many jobs, so little time: Two professions (rather like that of book critic) appealed to me when I was young: librarian and nun. In "Quiet, Please," Scott Douglas has given us closet librarians an appreciation of what that job entails.

While contemplating entering a graduate program in library sciences, Douglas takes a job at an Anaheim public library, to gain experience and to help pay for his education. First lesson: Not all librarians are readers. He is shocked that his colleagues haven't heard of Thomas Pynchon. They are shocked at how little he knows about Julia Roberts. They are, however, impressed with his knowledge of computers (he's by far the youngest employee). And there are the gender wars ("We have to stick together," a male colleague tells him). In the end, Douglas learns more from this on-the-job training than he ever could at school -- for instance, about the kinds of people who visit libraries (children needing refuge from parents; old people; eccentrics, like "the crazy Buddha man"). "A library," he discovers, is "nothing without its people." Without them, it's "just a building with books."

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You Want Fries With That?

A White-Collar Burnout Experiences Life

at Minimum Wage

Prioleau Alexander

Arcade: 250 pp., $24.95

THEY don't teach trading-down in business school -- it goes against the American career trajectory. And there's the overhead, "a few bills that have to be paid, pesky little nonnegotiable items like home insurance, car insurance, life insurance, flood insurance, personal articles insurance, catastrophic health insurance. . . . " At age 41, Alexander quits his advertising job: It just isn't fun anymore. Besides, "You know what's normal, in terms of human history? Getting up at sunrise, hunting or farming until sunset, then flopping down in a hut and going to sleep." He becomes a pizza delivery guy, an ice-cream scooper dude, a construction worker, an emergency-room technician, a ranch hand and a fast-food employee. He applies at a big box store but fails to impress the online interviewer. "You Want Fries With That?" is a funny book, yes, but it's vital to know what it's like to work at such jobs. Granted, scooping ice cream for a few weeks is very different from depending on that job for years. "Jobs are for people," I once heard a manager say; it sounded revolutionary.

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It's Only Temporary

The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive

Evan Handler

Riverhead Books: 224 pp., $24.95

AT age 24, actor Evan Handler was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He spent four years fighting it, went through two remissions and finally beat it. But he was hardly in the clear: He still had love, depression and job fulfillment to face. "It's Only Temporary" is about perspective and how it changes, he explains. It's about "growing up late in the game" and learning "to live well in the world" despite the knowledge that life "will be of limited duration."

Handler writes about mistakes in love (lots of them). He writes about learning the hard way in Hollywood how important it is to own the rights to your life story. He confronts his fallibility, vulnerability and lack of comprehension: "I've remained a fairly 'I don't know' guy. Not in the passive, desultory manner most would imagine. I've made a conscious, emphatic decision to remain undecided." Like it or not, there's something endearingly modern in that voice -- especially now, in a time when everyone else has terribly strong opinions.

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susan.reynolds@latimes.com

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