By December 3, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

The Occupational Memoir

As Neil has recently pointed out, memoirs are always popular reading and many provide great topics for discussion. One of my favorite types of memoirs for reading and discussing is the occupational memoir, books written about the jobs people do.

Our worksites hold significant places in our daily lives. After family and friends, work is the topic that will have book group members digressing. Offer up a workplace memoir if you have a group that likes to talk about their work.

Why do we want to talk about our jobs? For the same reasons that many readers enjoy occupational memoirs. There are many characters that others can identify with. There are small or large pockets of conflict that can dramatically change the direction of a particular project or a worker’s day.

We are also looking for inspiration in the workplace. We want to validate our career choices and we want readers to look past the sometimes cliched surfaces of our work and see what really happens on the job. We want others to see the value in what we do and understand its place in the fabric of society.

Authors of occupational memoirs understand these needs and address many of these discussable topics. They will also write about the passion that drives some people choose certain vocations and keeps them on the job. We like to read about the drama in other people’s professions and try to understand what it takes to do a hard, stressful, dangerous, or distasteful job.

While discussing a memoir of an author’s work life, it will be important not to talk about the job itself and reader’s own experiences with people who have done this kind of work. What is it about these occupations or tasks that make them interesting to everyone? Are there jobs that seem to be more interesting to read about than others? What makes a person want to do this kind of job?


Some interesting choices for book groups looking for vocational memoirs might be:

Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners by Alan Emmins. Discuss what it takes to clean up crime scenes after the investigators have finished gathering evidence.

Fighting Fire by Caroline Paul, the first woman to join the San Francisco Fire Department.

Other People’s Dirt by Louise Rafkin. Learn what your housekeeper doesn’t want you to know what she knows about you.

Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip–Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica. What your waiter wishes you knew about the service industry and how much abuse servers take for very little monetary reward.

Brothel: Mustang Ranch and its Women by Alexa Albert. The world’s oldest profession is still a viable one and it’s not as easy as it looks. You need more licenses to work in a brothel than you do to teach elementary school.



About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

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