Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Work Book

Posted By on Wed, Nov 8, 2000 at 12:00 AM

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Gig takes a familiar approach to the ever-changing, enormous field of work, providing readers with more than 120 oral histories of jobs, gigs, careers and people. A generation ago, it was possible for one man, Studs Terkel, to collect a dictionary of these voices. The people who spoke through his book, Working, were well equipped to talk about whatever awful or menial job they worked, and their eloquence became a claim for human dignity.

Now, the men and women of Terkel’s book are largely retired and the job market has been changed by seismic shifts in all sectors of industry. The editors of word.com update Terkel’s project here, demonstrating the human contours of that shift. And just as a generation before, every job requires something of the intelligence and engagement of the people who do the work. No job lets you off the hook, or allows you to just be yourself.

Many details of personal lives glimpsed throughout are open attempts to forget about job-related stresses, mentioning the home, the mall or the park as places people go to try to remember themselves. But workers can’t entirely stop being themselves at work, either, despite management mantras to the contrary. There are stories of emotion, close friendships and camaraderie here, too.

Whatever is in the world leaks into someone’s job, somewhere. So hidden beneath the stories are a wealth of often conflicting claims about the relationship of jobs to families, to sexuality and to consumerism, among other things. A sense of personal portability is also built up: Many of the workers tell of how they came to their present jobs from other places, other occupations. There’s no end to the wealth of information to be gleaned from this book; there’s well more than one "gig" of data represented here. Indeed, there’s more a temptation to believe that each job, and each person, holds within them well more than a gigabyte of information. And we’re left wanting more, not less, which is an impressive feat for a 588-page book.

Marc Christensen writes about books and music for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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