The “a book with a protagonist who has your occupation” category for the 2016 Reading Challenge is a tough one.
I have an uncommon job. I’d rather not tell you what my job is, in case something I write is viewed unfavorably by my employer. It’s uncommon enough that if I were to tell you, the possible guesses about the identity of my employer would be narrowed down too much. I doubt that there are many, if any, protagonists with my uncommon occupation.
I am not a file clerk at a VA hospital, which is what Harvey Pekar was when he started his American Splendor series of comic books. This occupation is close enough to my uncommon occupation that I’ll go with it.
I wasn’t able to get a copy of the first issue of American Splendor, which was publish in 1976. (That’s not true: I found a copy on Amazon for $144.00. I don’t want to spend that much on the Challenge.) The library had only the final two compilation editions: Another Day (published in 2007), and Another Dollar (published in 2009). Another Day was on the shelf at the Central Library.
Harvey Pekar died in 2010.
Another Day is a collection of short stories, written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by various artists. Like all the stories in the American Splendor series, they are celebrations of ordinary life, rather than the traditional super hero comics. All of the stories are autobiographical non-fiction.
He tells the story of his parents retiring, and then both contracting Alzheimer’s disease. Another story consists of nothing but him in an airport, watching a woman spill muffin crumbs on herself while she reads The Da Vinci Code.
While his wife’s out of town, he spends a day trying to be a step-dad to his 16-year-old step-daughter, while dealing with publishers, and tracking down a runaway cat.
In the wonderfully named “Northwest Airlines Goes Socialist”, he argues with a flight attendant over a bag of peanuts. In another story, he decides that fixing a toilet proves he’s become a man more than his Bar Mitzvah did. In another story, he helps his foster daughter find her lost glasses.
He has a conversation, about crime-fighting musicians, at the check-out line of his neighborhood grocery store. He finds his step-daughter’s friend’s house in a snow storm. In another story, he tries to pass an emission test.
In a rare third-person story, he tells of a friend getting a job in a charity clinic. He signs books at comics convention. He tells a story of growing up as the only white kid in a black neighborhood. He procrastinates. He takes his medications.
He discusses regionalism. He helps a friend deal with criticism. He spends a morning running errands, and everything goes well.
He watches his foster daughter make her first pie. In “Today I am a Mouse”, he can’t fix his toilet and needs his neighbor’s help. In Spanish class, in 1957, he can’t answer the teacher’s question because he has his mind on the pretty girl in the next chair.
He buys vegetarian junk food in the grocery store. He got fired from a brewery in 1960. He worries about why his phone doesn’t have a dial tone. He comforts a friend who broke up with a mutual friend.
He buys take-out at a very friendly diner which has great prices. He meets with the staff of DC Comics, in New York, before going to his book signing. He tries to write a piece for Playboy Magazine, which isn’t going well because he wants to write about the real Harvey Pekar, and the magazine wants the caricature of himself he played on David Letterman.
(It occurs to me that Harvey Pekar’s books are a lot like this blog, only better-written.)
American Splendor: Another Day, by Harvey Pekar, is a lot of fun. I got a kick out of reading it.
- A book with a protagonist who has your occupation