My grandfather, Edwin Reich, turns 99 this month, and my family is going down to visit him in Boca Raton next week. He’s been on my mind more than usual. Ed, or Bapa, began his career as a traveling salesman in the 1930s, hawking fancy fur coats throughout the Northeast to those few who hadn’t been hit so hard by the Great Depression. Then, in an ill-advised business move, he switched to selling carpet sweepers; and not the brand that people wanted to buy. He struggled in those early years, although you wouldn’t know it now. He went on to start a small clothing store alongside my grandmother Mildred, retired early, and seems to have the spent the better part of the last thirty years playing golf, reading the newspaper, and doing some kind of magic with his investments.
A couple months ago my warm and encouraging editor, Suzanne Gordon, sat me down and told me I should get out there to promote my book, With God On Our Side: Labor Struggle in a Catholic Hospital. I needed to speak about it. I needed to blog about it. I needed to ask my friends and relatives to tweet about it. My stomach lurched a little. Suzanne noticed, but persisted. She does not give up easily. And she’s right, after all. I should be shouting about my book from the rooftops! The dignity of work and importance of labor unions are issues I care deeply about. And a book is a perfect platform! Why not stand on it? Or jump from it? Or do whatever one does with a platform? If I’m honest with myself, I think part of the appeal of the academic world is the privacy I get to feel inside it. But at the same time I believe that those of us in this world should be more public and engage with others about our work.
And so, with these conflicts unresolved, I’ve begun to arrange a small book tour for myself. This morning I took the train from Penn Station as the first flakes of Snowmageddon began to fall on New York City, and tonight I’m sitting in a hotel room in Washington D.C. Tomorrow I talk to a gathering of the Catholic Labor Network and try to make my way home. So far it’s been surprisingly fun to talk about the book, and satisfying to connect with others who care about the same things I do. But when my energy starts to flag, I just think of my book as a carpet sweeper. And it all gets a little bit easier.
One response to “Traveling Salesmen”
Adam, read the book. It is brilliant. Loved your use of ’emotional labour’ and the mobilised heart. If your book tour gathers pace, think about bringing it to the UK where we are just waking up to community unionism. Keep fighting the good fight. Mick