May 22, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Cleaning was never so steeped in meaning as it is in Rafkin’s scintillating reflection on her profession of the past eight years. She reveals what objects on a bedside table say about a marriage (dueling remotes: a bad sign) and tells all after being fired for leaving two Cheerios in the sink. She joins a Japanese cleaning commune, visits a Messies Anonymous meeting, and interviews various ”exotic” (as in naked) housecleaners, a woman who cleaned for Hearsts and Rockefellers, and an expert in scrubbing up crime scenes (who recommends vacuuming, not wiping up, maggots). Rafkin delivers the dirt on cleaning with investigative zeal and remarkable depth in Other People’s Dirt: A Housekeeper’s Curious Adventures. A

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