Studs Terkel Will Save Publishing

Studs Terkel: Last words with a Voice of America

I went looking for an anecdote from Studs Terkel’s epic 1974 book, Working, and wound up with another and a different point to make:

“So when I did the book Working, there was in it a portrait of a waitress, Dolores Dante. She was a girl. And at the end she starts crying about her life and being a middle-aged woman when the kids have left. And much later a guy stops me in the street and says, ‘You son of a bitch. After reading about that waitress in your book, I’m never going to speak to a waitress again the way I did before.’ So I affected that guy. Dolores affected that guy. It was her moment of immortality.”

People are curious about other people.

Why doesn’t publishing use this fact to sell non-gossipy, non-trashy books?

It’s the same damned impulse — near-pathological, stalker-like curiosity — and it can be used to publishing’s benefit.

How would that guy have known what the lot of a waitress was like if he hadn’t read that book? How many people — especially in these Gotterdammerung me-me-me times — stop to consider what another person’s life might be like?

The young and callous look at a waitress with contempt, if they look at her at all.

Terkel’s book shows the human being behind (or stuck in) that occupation.

I’m not going to lay out examples of how this can be done. Earn your damned marketing salary, dammit.

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