Reading the “Work” of Others

Last week, I finished a novel in which the main character’s job was so prominent that it seemed to be another character. The story convinced me that there is always more to what I read than I may expect. For instance, in the novel Rebecca, the house seems to become a character.

So for Labor Day, here’s a handful of books in which the occupation of the character(s) plays a large part in the plot. Several of these novels won awards and all have been best-sellers. Some have been re-created for television or on the big screen.stack of books

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The first of the stories in which consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, and Dr. John Watson work together, sets the stage for many stories to come. Doyle created a character so intriguing, that his Sherlock Holmes stories have never gone out of print. In A Study in Scarlet, the mystery of the death is, naturally, quickly solved by Holmes with his new roommate amazed at his abilities. Watson gives us his observations on Holmes’ strengths and his weaknesses (yes, he has some). And if you’re anywhere close to enjoying a good mystery, Doyle’s Holmes stories just might become favorites.

Advise and Consent by Allen Drury
The world of politics, it seems, has always been a cutthroat business. In Advise and Consent, the story depicts how ruthless congressmen and senators can be. Lives are shattered, legislation is a tool for manipulation and even the president plays the games. The story has its good guys, but one message threads its way through the plot: Don’t trust anyone.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
This is considered to be best-selling author, Chabon’s, magnum opus. It’s the story of how cousins Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay make their way to the top in the world of comic books creators in a day when comic books were hot. Creating characters like Luna Moth and The Escapist come naturally considering the two young men’s backgrounds.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarch
The story of Paul Baumer, a young German soldier who enlisted with his friends to fight in The Great War, was so controversial to Adolf Hitler during the Third Reich that he banned the book. Baumer, who quickly becomes disillusioned after seeing the real horrors of war, declares a vow to live a different life when he makes it home. No more hate, regardless of a person’s background. Some have called this the greatest war novel of all time.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
The owner of The Empire Grill, Miles Roby has put his life on hold for everyone. After 20 years of running a diner, he’s becoming frustrated with a life that feels controlled by everyone around him. He’s devoted to his daughter, Tick, he’s annoyed with his soon-to-be ex-wife and his past keeps coming back to haunt him. Russo created characters that truly come alive: we can relate to many of them. The dialogue often carries the story so that we might actually be feeling their emotions.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
An epic western. A story of the west just before men began to creep into it and take over. Cowboys are moving a huge herd from Texas to Montana and then coming home. The perils include more than crossing rivers and fighting the weather, although both take their toll. This is a personal favorite of mine, which surprised me because I’d never read a western before. The tale is so well-told, I’d read it again.

The Martian by Andy Weir
Ever wonder what it’s like to be an astronaut and all the science stuff you’d need to know to be one? Here’s the book for you. Mark Watney is left behind on Mars after a dust storm forces his command crew to leave the surface, thinking him dead. Weir’s knowledge of computer systems, his hobby interest into all things to do with space flight and years of research create a story that’s believable and entertaining. In fact, Mark Watney becomes a guy we laugh with, cheer for, and for whom we hold on to the edge of our seats.

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
A story about an English butler may seem slightly less interesting than your usual fare. After all, the life of a butler can’t be very exciting, can it? Forget the drama of Downton Abbey, our hero takes a day trip and assesses his life after thirty years of service to the same household. This is a quiet assessment, as expected. But, as with many books about people and their private lives, his story may resonate with any reader.

This is only a partial list of books I’ve read with the character’s occupation being prominent. Have you read any of these? What were your thoughts? How do you relate to a character in regard to their occupation if that job seems to be prominent in the plot? Are there other books you could add to the list?

Happy reading and enjoy the Labor Day holiday.

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