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A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  19,039 ratings  ·  2,701 reviews
A Manual for Cleaning Women compiles the best work of the legendary short-story writer Lucia Berlin. With the grit of Raymond Carver, the humor of Grace Paley, and a blend of wit and melancholy all her own, Berlin crafts miracles from the everyday, uncovering moments of grace in the laundromats and halfway houses of the American Southwest, in the homes of the Bay Area uppe ...more
Hardcover, 406 pages
Published August 18th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published April 2015)
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DF My tiny local branch of the Portland (Maine) Public Library had it in a "recommended" book shelf - on audio. Love love love this book.
John I'm not sure that there is any evidence that sexism or classism or any other "ism" was involved in causing her to be relatively obscure before the pub…moreI'm not sure that there is any evidence that sexism or classism or any other "ism" was involved in causing her to be relatively obscure before the publication of MCW. Certainly there are plenty of published women authors out there.
I suspect that there are a number of other explanations. First, I understand that her entire oeuvre consists of 76 short stories. I don't believe that she ever wrote a novel. I think it is much harder for a short story writer to obtain wide recognition than for a novelist. Alice Munro and a few others are notable exceptions.
Second, Lucia was writing in the western United States rather than the east where she might have had better access to a major editor and publisher. Who was there to champion her work during her lifetime and help her gain a national reputation?
Third, the totality of MCW can (should?) be viewed as a memoir. The whole genre of non-celebrity memoirs, as I understand it, got started in the '90's with the publication of "The Liars' Club" by Mary Karr. Since then, the genre has taken off. It may well be that the publishing world and reading public hadn't developed a taste for the genre at the time that Lucia was writing. In that sense, she may have been ahead of her time.
Finally, I understand that it's just plain hard for any author to get his or her work published and obtain wide recognition. Many authors who today are household names had great difficulties getting their work published. How many worthwhile works never see the light of day due to lack of a publisher?(less)

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Dave Cullen
Jan 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My foundation as a writer was shaped by these stories. I first read most of them in 1984, when I went to grad school in writing at U of Colorado in Boulder. Lucia was one of several wonderful profs I had there, but it was her stories alone that I read, with awe, and said, "THAT is what I want to do!"

Quiet awe, by the way. That's the beauty of these stories. No kings or dukes or ladies in waiting losing their heads or fighting for the crown. No grand sweeping anything, no boisterous narrator, sho
Julie Christine
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I know already, just four stories in, that this will be a 5-Star read for me. And that a few weeks from now—because I am reading slowly, to savor each bit— I will struggle to pick my favorites from the forty-two short stories collected here. So this review contains tidbits from those stories which most capture my heart and brain and I will update as I move along.

Angel's Laundromat
A laundromat . . . that transient, warm, sad space . . . where we watch others sorting, folding, watching us... But
da AL
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Warning: Skip the two introductions to the book, unless you want to know how many of the stories end before you read them. In the case of the audio book, skip ahead to track 15 of CD 1. What were the people who wrote the introductions, and then the people who let them do it, thinking?!

A beautiful collection of short stories that inspire compassion and imagination. The multiple audiobook readers did well. Given how the book is autobiographically inspired and the author was fluent in Spanish, it w
Barbara Adamson
Aug 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I first met Lucia Berlin in 1991 as the significant other of one of her sons, who remains my closest friend. Though I knew she wrote short stories, it was something that was mentioned in passing and I never seemed to make the time to read them. I am thankful that I didn't. My age and experiences have just added to the thrill of discovering her writing now. I wish you could be here to see this, Lucia. Your time has come.
I was a little afraid to read this book. What if I didn't like it? Or think
Aug 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Evocative and sharp, the stories of A Manual for Cleaning Women vividly portray the joys and pains of everyday life. In neat prose Berlin lends a voice to women in the Southwest as they navigate difficult terrain such as divorce, alcoholism, death, and existential angst, all the while seeking pleasure and solace in small miracles. A widowed school teacher reinvents herself on vacation in "Todo Luna, Todo Año," while two sisters cope with the sorry state of their lives at a beachside resort in "G ...more
Francesca Marciano
Nov 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
What a wonderful discovery: how is it possible only few of us knew of Lucia Berlin? Hard core readers should all be in love with her without question. Her stories are pitch perfect: witty, unpredictable,funny, tragic, sad. Her humor is oblique, original. The stories are so personal, clearly autobiographical, and I wonder if there were a few - about her alcoholism so painful to read - that she may have not wanted to see them published. No matter how self destructive she may have been, there is al ...more
Julianne (Outlandish Lit)
I wasn't going to review this book. I really wasn't. Because how does one even begin to go about describing what it feels like to be in love? Ok, maybe that's hyperbolic, but at the same time I'm feeling the same excitement and utter loss for words. I almost skipped this book because of all the hype. Because that's the kind of person I am. I figured there's no way I won't be disappointed by a book getting this much press and acclaim. But I am here to tell you that I, the coldest heart this side ...more

I am not a good reader of short stories. I find them anticlimactic. And they don’t stick in my memory the way a novel does.

It was the window of a bookshop in the center of Madrid that first presented me Lucia Berlin. I was walking around with friends after a tapas round and we all took notice of the very alluring exhibit. I can’t identify what intrigued me about the way her books were displayed.

Soon after one of the friends gave me this volume (view spoiler)
Mar 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Reading this collection of short stories was a little like going to MOMA and admiring a piece of modern art you know nothing about. At first you think, hmm, it's kinda neat, but then the harder you look the more the beauty shines through.
As the stories unfold in A Manual for Cleaning Women you realize they are all loosely connected, that there is a strand of consciousness. Gradually, Berlin's words begin to eat away at you.
I won't say I loved this book but what I will say is that her words haunt
“Afterward we went to a Chinese restaurant. But it was closing. ‘Yes, we always arrive when it’s closing. That’s when they order takeout pizza.’

How they had originally found this out I can’t imagine. They introduced me to the waiter and we gave him money. Then we sat around a big table with the waiters and chefs and dishwashers, eating pizzas and drinking Cokes. The lights were off; we ate by candlelight. They were all speaking Chinese, nodding to us as they passed around different kinds of
A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin is an amazingly wonderful collection of short stories. They share themes and characters so in some ways this collection shares some of the feeling of a novel but each story is a complete, vivid moment in itself. The people are so realized that I found myself thinking of them as real-more real in some ways than people who are actually alive since I got to know these people so much better than you can get to know most people you meet. E ...more
Paul Bryant
Apr 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Least likely to say : raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, these are a few of my favourite things. Tra la la, life is a blast. Fling open the windows and breathe in the scent of gladiolas and nightingales.

Most likely to say : one pint of Jim Beam, two pints of Jim Beam, three pints of Jim Beam. Those were a few of my favourite things. But now they're gone. And it's five in the morning, and the stores aren't open yet.
Jan 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Laysee by: Winston

"A Manual For Cleaning Women" is a collection of 43 stories about women in all kinds of demanding jobs: cleaning woman, laundry hand, teacher, doctor's assistant, ER nurse, ward clerk, and switchboard operator. Most of these stories are autobiographical. The lives of these women - broken, wretched, heart-breaking - are veiled versions of Berlin's own. This comes close to a 5-star read.

Berlin had a tumultuous childhood, dysfunctional parents and grandparents who drink, three failed marriages, fou
Wendy Greenberg
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
I am obviously missing something as, try as I might, I couldn't find the delight/wonder/magnificence in these stories that every other reviewer seems to have found. The hugely overlong introduction and foreword hugely distracted me as expectations were raised so high (for me) that the stories could not possibly deliver...Maybe I need to return to this at another time...but really not keen
Roman Clodia
Mar 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Confession: I'm not the greatest fan of short stories - I prefer the density of a novel - but these tales are just wonderful. Perhaps they work because, as others have said, there are continuities, not always obvious, between the characters and stories themselves so that we experience some of the connections of a novel. In any case, Berlin's cool, clean, pellucid prose wins hands down with me over that fussy, 'poetic' writing awash with strained images and metaphors that seems to be on all the p ...more
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This collection of short stories was recommended to me by Glen David Gold (Sunnyside, Carter Beats the Devil) on a recent trip to City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. It had been on my book list here for a while, but as soon as I got it, I ate it up in a way I usually don’t a short story collection. This collection has been drawn from several of her books published by the legendary Santa Rosa, California publisher Black Sparrow Press (and it’s always an event discovering another Black Sparro ...more
May 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Berlin writes as if she is telling the reader the stories of her life. The stories are quirky and messy and don't have easy conclusions. They feel true. She writes about everyday life; good times, hard times, mis-adventures and detours. The same characters keep showing up in these semi-autobiographical stories - Grandpa, Uncle John, her mother, her sister Sally, her husbands, her children - but the perspective keeps changing. You never know what to expect. The cumulative effect is --- expansive. ...more
Jason Diamond
Aug 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
There are so many stereotypical things I could say about this collection like the stories "popped" off the pages and "I couldn't put it down," and all of them would be true. I felt like she was right in front of me telling me her story, that's how real these stories felt. Funny and biting, at times gritty and dark. I absolutely loved this.
Sep 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Time stops when someone dies. Of course it stops for them, maybe, but for the mourners time runs amok. Death comes too soon. It forgets the tides, the days growing longer and shorter, the moon. It rips up the calendar.

Why isn’t this already on your to-read list? It’s the real deal, guys. Check out what that ‘, maybe,’ does.

I traveled through the southwest in the 1950s, I lived in Berkely in the 1970s, and she’s got those places and times nailed here. Thank God I didn’t live in a family like the
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I can’t overstate the importance of this book to my own writing. It strikes a perfect balance between precise language and thrilling thought. And it has so much life; the result of a woman who spent much of it cleaning houses, working in trauma wards, getting drunk and getting sober. Lucia Berlin goes up with Denis Johnson, Lydia Davis, and Barry Hannah in my short story dream team.
Aug 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't make you read these stories, but if I could, I would.
This hidden (until recently) gem of American literature has been compared to Alice Munro, among other short story writers, and indeed, they share the same great voice, strong female characters disguised as domestic goddesses, and atmospheric stories, but Lucia Berlin's are also very vivid, quite dark and many times imbibed with alcohol, pain and substance abuse, which makes them way too real at times.

Go read them.
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Description in one sentence or less:

A collection of stories about the rest of us.

Review Haiku:

Compared to the stars
We are so, so very small
And nearly as bright

Claire Fuller
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed most of these. They felt quite autobiographical, partly because they came back again and again to the same type of people, the same places in the world, the same human afflictions. I didn't mind that at all - it added a wonderful flavour to the book. Berlin's style is wonderful - observant, clear, detailed. Sometimes the endings of the stories didn't quite satisfy, and actually I think these could have been broken down into two volumes. There were almost too many stories to take ...more
Jul 22, 2018 rated it liked it
These stories make me feel as if I am having an asthma attack and I'm trying super hard to suck in the oxygen. At an increasingly frenetic pace that's getting my anxiety to such levels that I'm not even sure if I can rapidly locate the inhaler I need in the time frame that will make a difference.

And even after I have scarfed the stupid thing out of the bottom of the purse in which it has been covered by nameless objects of minutia (some of her sentences seem like 3 trunks dumped into a purse siz
Aug 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“I love houses, all the things they tell me, so that's one reason. I don't mind working as a cleaning woman. It's just like reading a book.”

Every once in awhile, you stumble on a book, that just reminds you, why books are special, why you have devoted endless minutes, hours and days, to the printed page. This amazing collection of stories, that compile the best work of Lucia Berlin, is one such book.

Many of these tales, are based on Berlin's life, gently linked stories, that show women, struggli
Sue Russell
Jul 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
The best stories in this collection, which are many, rate a 5. I ate up this rather large book in short order. The stories are mostly autobiographical, according to what we learn from the two introductions, with variations on what "really happened" to a Lucia Berlin-type of woman with a different name but a similar profile: married 3 times, 4 sons, difficult childhood, moved around a lot(settings include Alaska, Costa Rica, El Paso, Albuquerque, Oakland)alcoholism, subsistence jobs. Some of the ...more
Megan Baxter
May 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Reading this book feels like a strangely intimate act. The title is strangely apt in how it relates to this, where the reader is invited in to see someone's life on a material level, touch their things, see their surroundings, but with distance. You're not a friend, and these stories aren't for you. They exist, simply and sometimes harshly, resisting easy pulls of lessons or development.

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You c
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Just super! She ranks with Hemingway and Carver as a short story writer. Painfully and uproariously honest and autobiographical. She lived an interesting life all over the Americas, from Idaho to Chile, went through addiction and recovery, battled scoliosis and cancer, loved numerous men, had four sons, survived childhood abuse, worked many occupations, and was a gregarious woman with friends in high and low places.
I knew from first few stories that this will be candidate for best book I read this year and that impression lasted until the end. Coming from writer who had abundance of life experience. Living from poverty to abundance, working everything from cleaning woman to collage professor, getting married and divorced, having bunch of children and greeting alcoholism problem in meantime. That kind of colorful life combined with great, subtle writing make some of the best stories I read.
May 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a brilliant, powerful writer. The stories run the gamut of her turbulent life and they are told in equal measure with humor and heartbreak. Her acclaim is well deserved.
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Berlin began publishing relatively late in life, under the encouragement and sometimes tutelage of poet Ed Dorn. Her first small collection, Angels Laundromat was published in 1981, but her published stories were written as early as 1960. Several of her stories appeared in magazines such as The Atlantic and Saul Bellow’s little magazine The Noble Savage.

Berlin published six collections of short st

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