Studs Terkel Working
September 2, 2009


I always hesitate to put a comic book recommendation in Twist and Shout, but sometimes the book is just too perfect a recommendation. In a past book page I wrote about the comic book styled adaptation of the 9/11 Commission's Report, and how well the style of comic strips meshed with the heaviness of the subject matter. That was a report/story that I otherwise wouldn't have read if it hadn't been in that format, but I'm glad I did. The pairing of pictures with words can turn a tough read into something a little more digestable. It's a picture book for adults and more and more writers are using this style, but there are plenty of writers who have been using this style for years, and this month's book page focuses on a new version of an old book.

The 1974 book Working by Studs Terkel is an oral history of American workers in all shapes and sizes. Every aspect of the working class is represented through the man-on-the-street interviews Turkel did to chronicle just what it took to be an American worker. Turkel was a Pulitzer Prize winning author and radio broadcaster, amongst other things, but he was best known for providing an intimate look at the everyday aspects of American lives. His book Working is a simple yet specific collection of interviews asking real people why they work and what makes them return to their job everyday.

For this new graphic adaptation, Harvey Pekar provides the illustrations and there isn't a better artist to do the job. Pekar first found fame through his comics series American Splendor, an autobiographical look at the trials of life, from his job as a file clerk to his car breaking down. Comic books are simply the marriage of pictures and words, and here they're the perfect medium for the marriage or Terkel's Americana subject matter with Pekar's bare-bones story telling style.

Terkel died last year in Chicago, and I was living there at the time of his death. Every media outlet in the city, as well as many others throughout the country were carrying retrospectives of his interviews. I wasn't familiar with him at the time but was curious to learn more, which was overwhelming because he left behind a huge volume of work from books to plays to countless hours of on-the-street interviews (many available online).

This month's book recommendation is kind of a cheat, because it's a chance to recommend an older book while still keeping things contemporary. Some months don't always leave time to dig into an author's back catalog, but what's great about this new version of Working is the timeless subject matter. It's an older book in a new format but the words and stories aren't changed, providing a chance to read the same ideas Terkel originally published in the seventies. It's historic yet modern, because the stories of the working class will forever be the stories of American.


Regular Size Twist and Shout