Everyone's got their own heroes — folks whose actions have made our lives and world better, whose words continue to inspire us. One of the great things about books is that there are always a few new ones to discover.
Rinker Buck, for instance. In First Job: A Memoir of Growing Up at Work, he shares the mind-rush and idealism of snagging permanent employment fresh out of college. While many of us had to sift through a couple bumps prior to finding our life's work, Buck was fortunate enough to land at The Berkshire Eagle, a multiple award-winning, small-town newspaper that competed even-up with the big guns like The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune. Stoked by a near-legendary corps of editors who believed fervently in the freedom of the press and the need to squarely take editorial responsibility, Buck luxuriated in every facet of the job — covering community to-do's, writing tight, bullpen banter, meeting daily deadlines and living in one of the country's most gorgeous regions.
He also conjures up the heady days of the '70s, when a lot of things were free — like love, mentors and government. His book reads like a wild romp which so adroitly suits his situation: How does a guy find employment at a place where the clatter of typewriter keys sound out a staccato rhythm of reading, 'riting and righteous living? Buck is the first to admit he was one lucky guy. We should be grateful he took the time to recount his experience for those of us who came too late or for anyone who wants to relive a time that now seems so innocent in its exuberance.
First Job is a wonderful tonic when everything else on the shelf looks uninviting.
Uninvited is precisely what Lenny Bruce was, at least by conservatives in the '60s. The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon documents the legal struggles Bruce endured as he gave voice to an America emerging from the Wonder Bread world of the '50s. Much like Buck, Bruce's outrageous behavior seems blandly innocent by today's standards, yet it rankled the moral majority to the degree that the law repeatedly set out to snare him.
One bonus element to this book is the audio CD which contains commentary from Nat Hentoff, portions of the obscenity trials and even bits of the comedy routines that landed Bruce in the pokey. Three things become abundantly clear by the end of this book: Bruce was as much an agent for free speech as any early American patriot; he was an artist just as much as he was an agitator; and virtually every comedian taking the stage in the last 40 years owes a huge debt to Leonard Alfred Schneider.
Hero is not a term often applied to Ralph Nader, but for my vote (even though he didn't get it), he is perhaps the most tireless, passionate and moral activist working in Washington today. Now out in paperback, Crash!ng the Party: Taking on the Corpo-rate Govern-ment in an Age of Surrender will generate a month's supply of outrage and venom for what passes as politics. Grab a copy if you're feeling cold in the winter months — it's guaranteed to get your blood boiling. Before anyone files Nader's issues as no longer pertinent, we need not look any further back than the local elections just a few weeks ago to clear up any doubt that a shake-up is still desperately needed.
True heroes: Freedom: A Photo-graphic History of the African American Struggle. From 1840 to the present, 500 pages of photos and text will stun you into uneasy silence with classic shots of Martin Luther King, Elizabeth Eckford entering Little Rock Central High School, Thurgood Marshall, H. Rap Brown and hundreds more. Looking back over 150 years, the reader struggles to comprehend the unknowable struggle that hundreds of thousands of American citizens have endured for equality. Though so many of the crusaders are now gone, their spirits are kept alive in this phenomenal collection of moments that define the extremes of human contempt and courage.
Finally, if you need a little lighter fare, pick up a copy of Odd Jobs: Portraits of Unusual Occupations. Primarily a photo book of 65 of the strangest jobs you've ever heard about, the short pieces which accompany each shot give background to what a wacky world we live in. Headmis-tress at the world's first cross-dressing academy (Miss Vera's Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls), condom testers, clock-masters, horse race timekeeper, bull semen collector, golf ball diver, bingo caller, sparring partner, dinosaur duster, knife thrower's assistant, safe cracker, earthworm farmers and many, many more. No amazing insights here, but in a stressed-out world, it's a bit of humor. Sometimes that's exactly what's needed. ©