“It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”
STUDS TERKEL - WORKING XI
Studs Terkel’s Working was first published in 1974. As the subtitle states, in the book we hear “people talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do”. We have incorporated it into our Labor Day book display this month, as we did last year. Frankly we will use any excuse to get Terkel’s book into circulation.
A hefty tome, Working is divided into a number of separate books and sub-books with titles like “Working the Land,” “A Pecking Order,” “Cleaning Up,” “The Demon Lover,” Reflections on Idleness and Retirement,” and “The Quiz Kid and the Carpenter” – some of which are suggestive about the stories they contain, but all of which are, you will likely admit, intriguing. (As an additional #BannedBooksWeek enticement to pick the book up, it has been banned a number of times - see our book list, linked above, for more on that).
Working is a great book to dip into at random, learning about the working lives of a jockey, a piano tuner, a mail carrier, a grave digger, an editor, and even a librarian. Each piece is told in the voice of the individual worker, prompted with questions and interspersed with commentary from Studs Terkel. While some seem charmingly antiquated when read with our 21st century sensibilities, it is fascinating how many workplace issues - sexism, racism, work-life balance, and overall ennui, seem amazingly of the moment.
The interviews were recorded on reel-to-reel tape and the recordings have only relatively recently resurfaced, as reported last year on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday; a sampling of the interviews can be heard via Radio Diaries in their special one-hour episode of their series The Working Tapes of Studs Terkel. Perhaps you'd like to check out a copy of Working from the Library and read along?