In a society awash in narcissistic self-absorption, Simeon W. Johnson offers an alternative: In You’re A Worthwhile Person, he seeks to bring attention and appreciation to “the unsung heroes of everyday life.”
The author focuses on the people who work behind the scenes to make our lives easier. His book is broken down into 11 chapters, each devoted to three or four loosely related occupations. There are the “transporters” (baggage handler, bus driver, cab driver, etc.), those who fix “the machines around us” (electrician, elevator technician), cleaners (dishwasher, janitors, window washer) and so on.
For each occupation, Johnson briefly details the life of his subjects, which he notes are “composites of real people working in and around New York City.” The author describes what that person does and what his/her typical day looks like, blended with personal details. For example, there’s the EMT driver who gets called into work and must worry about someone walking her dogs, or an overburdened social worker trying to help an alcoholic patient in the midst of a breakdown. By doing so, he humanizes his subjects and hopefully opens readers’ eyes.
Johnson’s mini-biographies flow smoothly, often with interesting touches. Writing about a church organist, he says, “She walks over to the organ and massages her wrinkled hands, hoping her arthritis won’t kick in. Testing the organ keys, she’s relieved to find that they sound good. Untuned keys, like those that she played on at last weekend’s wedding ceremony at St. Bartholomew’s, can sound so dismal.”
These are relatively superficial studies, however, and readers may wish Johnson had chosen real people to profile more in depth, a la Studs Terkel’s acclaimed portraits of working men and women. Still, the goal of these stories – simple, rather than profound or deep – is to make us think just a little about the people around us. On that score, his work largely succeeds.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.