"White-Collar Sweatshop" and "When authors attack"

Readers respond to Suzy Hansen's review of "White-Collar Sweatshop" and Maria Russo's article about authors who strike back at their reviewers.

Published March 8, 2001 8:10PM (EST)

Read the review of "White-Collar Sweatshop."

Yeah, that's really sad, and sometimes I bring work home on the weekends, too. But you know what I'm not doing? I'm not pulling entrails out of cows, I'm not shoveling crap and I'm not standing in a puddle of acid pickling pig's feet. And you know what I am doing? Earning enough to live on. It may be sad that these things put me in a lucky small percentage, but there you are.

-- Haley Kish

Welcome to capitalism. Our businesses are in furious competition. The companies that don't enslave their workers go out of business. Can you imagine an American company succeeding with the overhead of a European company, where each employee gets five weeks' minimum vacation and a reasonable workweek? Perhaps it seems that American companies have made no improvement on their bottom line, but compare our economy to that of Europe. The social democracies in Europe have been fighting the good fight to require businesses to act responsibly and respect the personal lives of their workers, but they too are sacrificing this philosophy in order to be more competitive. It's the nature of capitalism.

After years of powerful marketing campaigns that convince us that a corporate-dominated society is what we want, Americans are driven not by "the pursuit of happiness" but by an insatiable materialistic quest that takes precedence over happiness itself. And the more money we feed back into the system, the more marketing dollars corporations have to perpetuate the cycle, and drag the rest of the world into the pit as well. Until we reprioritize, every company that dangles the carrot above us can make us jump as high as it wants, just like the jumping employees you mention at NYNEX.

I'm in favor of a good work ethic, a varied marketplace and the advances in technology that capitalism can foster. But shouldn't those be the means to the good life, not the definition of life itself?

-- Brian Pfohl

Here we go again. We've long heard that all of the credit for the 1990s goes to Clinton and Gore. Now we're told that all of the blame goes to someone else.

When are the would-be chroniclers of the 1990s going to fish or cut bait? If the Clinton-Gore administration really engineered the dot-com revolution, why is it never taken to task for the natural and foreseeable consequences of that revolution? On the other hand, why is it so wrong to suppose that the robber barons of the 1980s paved the way for an economic expansion that, after all, began before Clinton even took office?

-- David Edmondson

As a recent college graduate (less than one year), I was promised roads paved with gold, free massages, weekend retreats and a paycheck I can only dream about now. The truth is very close to the events described in your article regarding white-collar sweatshops. I was recently hired (not on a permanent basis, but freelance, since this way they don't have to pay any benefits), and am not unaccustomed to working 12-hour days, with lunch at my desk, hunched in the "non-ergonomic position" described in your article.

And I am not the exception to the rule. I am the rule: a faceless automaton pecking away at the life-enhancing computer. I know I sound cynical, but the fact remains: If I don't work these hours at this measly pay, they will simply find someone else to fill my position. College graduates are a dime a dozen, and we are being bred to fill cubicles.

With the current economic predictions, the times would appear to turn worse before better. My only fear is that it will become worse. Unfortunately, my 20-minute (unpaid) lunch is up, so I must return to the task at hand; working hard for the CEO to get a 490-percent raise, while I scrape together for health insurance.

-- Kasper Sorensen

I don't know whether to cry or laugh at Suzy Hansen's review of Jill Andresky Fraser's "White Collar Sweatshop." The conditions Fraser describes sound horrendous. Far from being treated like the famous high-value human capital we used to be lectured about, these workers are motivated much more by fear than by greed.

Yet it has always been the security/insecurity divide that truly separated middle class from working class. Well, welcome to the proletarianization of white collar work.

And yet -- what are they to do? If this country had a government that merely enforced its own labor laws, then their workers could begin exercising their legal rights to bargain collectively with their employer.

But according to Fraser, and I believe her, they scoff at unions. So instead we are treated to the image of Bank of America staff members cleaning up around their adopted ATMs on their own time. At least most public sanitation workers in this country are unionized. Think of it -- the garbage men on the back of that truck probably have more job security than those blue-suited, white-collar butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth salaried workers.

I wonder how many of these beaten-down professionals voted for Bush?

-- Seth Wigderson

I am an hourly-wage technician with working-class pay and middle-class benefits. I work 40 hours per week, with occasional overtime, and my time away from work is my own. I clearly live much better than the white-collar subjects of your article. I have twice the life on half the money!

Sometimes, in life, we get what we ask for. Aren't these the people who voted for Reagan, Bush, Dole, and Bush again? Well ... they got what they voted for. They should have voted for better.

But that is something they will have to realize for themselves. As Butch Swaim once said, "Before there can be a revolution, there first has to be a revolution between the ears."

These white-collar workers are among the "Nouveau Poor." They are the digital slaves on the silicon plantation. But no one can make them understand that. They have to want to understand that on their own.

Is there any escape for these poor people? Yes. In fact, there are several holes in the electric razor-wire fence, leading to a freer, more self-aware life. But until these people choose to see themselves as members of an exploited "cybertariat," and cultivate a sense of social class solidarity and an ethic of mutual support and assistance, they cannot perceive these holes, even if led to them by the hand.

There are none so blind as those who will not see. There are none so dumb as those who will not think. There are none so lost as those who will not read a map.

"Say it loud! I'm poor and I'm proud!"

"Say it loud! I'm poor and I'm proud!"

And myself? I live below my means. I am stuffing my retirement sausage full of ground money with each and every paycheck. My computer exposure is limited to my place of work. I have no cellphone, no pager, no answering machine and my house is a No-Chip Zone.

"Only disconnect ..." Tune out! Slow down!

-- Joshua Banner

Americans, do yourselves a favor. Join a union.

-- David J. Shaver

And who gets dumped on most for this state of affairs? The working mom.

-- Dorothy Nixon

Read "When authors attack" by Maria Russo.

Oh Lord, help us!

Fiction writers, novelists and playwrights live and die by the review. Newspapers are inexpensive and everywhere. A critic, who may only spend a few minutes forming an opinion on a work that they have spent a nanosecond absorbing, is a very powerful figure in the life of someone who has spent the better part of years creating a work.

Critics have the steady job, built on the backs of those who spend much more time trying to create something new. In the case where the opinion is more accessible than the work, does not the critic owe the author the smallest consideration?

It may take a writer a life to produce a work, only to be artistically and financially undone by some asswipe who is paid, merely, to have an opinion.

"The pen is mightier than the sword." Taking this in mind, perhaps "wit" and "insight" could bend a little to objectivity and compassion.

-- Charles Pike

As a longtime freelance book reviewer for Library Journal, I'd like to add my two cents to the furor over negative book reviews.

I've been writing book reviews for approximately 10 years. Since my day job is doing business research, I specialize in reviewing business books, but I also like to tackle other topics from time to time. LJ asks all reviewers to limit their reviews to 150 words. That may sound like a lot of space, but it's not. Because of these spatial constraints, I'm forced to be pithy and concise. No New York Times-book-review, long-winded verbosity allowed! I take the reviewing very seriously because I know that librarians who purchase books for their institutions read these reviews and frequently make decisions to buy or not to buy based on the reviews. I figure since the authors made a serious investment in time, energy and expense to write a book, I should give it a fair shot and read it cover to cover.

If I like the book, I'll let the reader know and conversely, if I don't like the book, I'll tell the reader that. The reviewers for LJ are not paid, so I'll never get rich writing these reviews. I do them because I love to read and I especially like being confronted with new books. I don't know anyone personally I've ever reviewed and if presented with a book to review by someone I did know, I'd turn it down. Why? Frankly it strikes me as being a potential conflict of interest and I just don't want to go down that road.

Occasionally, I've gotten letters complaining that I've been unduly harsh in writing about a book and have gone back to the original book to revisit my criticism. More often than not, the criticism will stand. But, if I ever felt that I was grossly unfair, I would certainly consider a revised review or ask my editor at LJ to assign it to another reviewer. Like I said, just a few thoughts on why I review books and why I intend to continue reviewing them. Happy reading to all!

-- Richard Drezen

A friend who knows I review fiction for Publishers Weekly eagerly called me after he read Maria Russo's article. We agreed that if I was indeed the thoughtless jerk who dared write a negative review, he would turn me in, collect the money and we'd split it.

After we hung up, I realized there was a real opportunity here. Why not turn myself in and get all the booty?

Much to my dismay, I am not the sadistic shrew who reviewed Jaime Clark's novel. Maybe I'll get a shot at reviewing his second book and earning some extra cash.

P.S. Ms. Russo, please write a follow-up article titled "When Authors' Publicists Attack." I'd be happy to share my experience with you.

-- Julia Kamysz Lane

Having just been on the receiving end of a really rotten review, I can somewhat sympathize with the bounty hunter. At the same time, I wondered if the reviewer was right. When I asked a respected colleague, they said, no, the book is fine and everyone gets a bad review at one time or another. In the end, I simply thanked the publication and moved on.

-- Kate Saundby

By Letters to the Editor

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