March 14, 2008
Punching In, by Alex Frankel
Posted by David Zaring

In Punching In, Alex Frankel took a bunch of different front-line jobs with massive American companies (for instance, at The Gap, which hires 135,000 people, and Starbucks, which hires 130,000) and reported back on what the experience is like.  He rode trucks for UPS, tried unsuccessfully for gigs at Whole Foods and The Container Store, picked up customers for Enterprise Rent-a-Car, you get the idea.  The book tries to sort out what corporate culture is, and whether it matters, though you're not going to write a book about corporate culture if you don't think it matters.  The verdict on UPS is quite positive, with esprit, elan, and high tech everywhere.  Enterprise sorta comes across as a Ponzi scheme selling corporate advancement, as well as cars and insurance.  The Gap is a hell of constantly unfolded clothes.  Starbucks is team-oriented and seriously busy.  Apple is a cult that Frankel likes.

With these kinds of memoirs, with the names changed, the locations obscured, and so on, the question is often: how much of this is fiction?  Frankel's book didn't seem very fictional, but it also wasn't quite enough fun.  His totally plausible experiences lacked interesting story arcs.  It is impressive that he actually worked all these front line jobs, but he seemed peeved and/or journalistically neutral about the experiences, not lapidary and engaged.  Fans of this sort of literature might enjoy Ben Cheever's Selling Ben Cheever even more.

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Comments (3)

1. Posted by Jason Kilborn on March 14, 2008 @ 10:36 | Permalink

Barbara Ehrenreich's now classic "Nickel and Dimed" is a great book along these same lines, and it sounds FAR better. Its focus is the in-the-trenches folks who are relegated to these sorts of jobs, rather than the "corporate cultures" that create them, so if you're looking for personal drama and "engaged and lapidary," check out Ehrenreich.

2. Posted by David on March 14, 2008 @ 11:39 | Permalink

Yeah, she's a great writer, and I want to read that book ... though, boy, she sure makes a lot of hay out of how there's no way these poor people could survive on what they make, at least in the magazine excerpts.

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