Elevate Difference

The Book Bindery

I just read a wonderful interview with the great poet Martin Espada, in which he talks about the beauty found in writing on all kinds of subjects. Espada himself has worked as a bouncer, a gas station attendant, and everything in between. His words immediately rang in my mind as I sat and devoured Sarah Royal's anecdotes on working in an actual book bindery in an industrial section of Chicago. Her descriptions about the place itself are fascinating—full of dust, ink, large copiers, and smells reeking from all areas of the work environment. I could immediately imagine what it was like to work there, based on Royal’s vivid details. Royal also describes the surrounding areas of the book bindery—where the piles of detritus can create a sweet altar of art on the book bindery's windowsill, where a naked man parks in the back lot and lives for a few days, and where the neighbors run an auto shop that never seems to fix any cars. The stories range from hilarious to a quirky kind of sad and feature fascinating characters—the large dysfunctional family that works at the book bindery and everyone Royal meets through her lengthy commute to her job—as well as a location that seems like a character in and of itself. There's the boss in drag and his brother, who are former alcoholics; a mix of folks who have hooked up with each other, used to be married, have kids together, or are somehow related; and the infamous crazy girl that sits on the bus with Royal as often as she can and tries to break down the mysteries of life with her.

I relate to her mindless drinking of the sludge they call coffee at the bindery and bitching about the bosses in everyday banter with the other employees. I relate to using arts and crafts projects and other creative pursuits to break up the monotony of a job. I used to work at Wawa (for anyone that doesn't live in the northeast U.S., it's a big chain convenience store) and would create all kinds of songs and beats while slicing huge slabs of pink meat behind the deli. I would entertain all the other Wawa employees with imaginary stories and daydreams while filling the walk-in cooler. I think a good deal of folks can relate to this kind of behavior while working the drudgery of their daily job. And that's why these little stories are so satisfying. They're real slices of life, and as poet Espada says, "It's easy to write about the working class in the abstract, but that impulse tends to produce bad poetry. It's very different to write about working class people in terms of the work they do."

Written by: Maleka Fruean, March 30th 2011