Odd Job Is Not Just a James Bond Villain

Literature is full of professions such as doctors and lawyers and teachers, but some protagonists have more unusual jobs. What are some examples of that?

Well, Tom Sherbourne is a lighthouse keeper in M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, and priests Lankester Merrin and Damien Karras of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist double as exorcist guys (the priests between oceans…of pea soup).

Of course, fictional characters’ unusual jobs are only a small part of what makes a fascinating novel fascinating, but they do add some…fascination. Heck, readers are curious about the logistics of jobs they never or rarely run across in real life. And of course what protagonists do for a living sheds some light (not just from a lighthouse) on their personalities and needs. For instance, Sherbourne at first welcomes the isolated nature of the lighthouse-keeper position after being traumatized by his war experiences.

Another isolated and relatively rare profession is held by Jean in Morag Joss’ Half-Broken Things. She’s a long-term house sitter — who’s not alone for long in her managed mansion of the moment.

The job of park ranger is not super rare, but it’s certainly not as plentiful a profession as many others. One memorable person holding that position is Deanna Wolfe in Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer.

Then there’s Robert Paterson’s job (actually, more a hobby) that takes him to cemeteries rather than parks to re-engrave the tombstones of Covenanter martyrs. Based on a real-life person, Paterson appears in Sir Walter Scott’s Old Mortality.

There are also fictional professions in fiction. Ephraim Gursky is basically a Jewish Eskimo (if one can call that a profession!) for a while in Mordecai Richler’s Solomon Gursky Was Here. His mom might have plaintively asked, “Ephie, you couldn’t have been a doctor or lawyer?”

Or how about the “fireman” in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? Nope, not the kind of firefighter who puts out blazes, but the kind who torches books — as Guy Montag does in the novel until he questions his role in obliterating literature and other accumulated knowledge.

Another fictional (in more ways than one) profession is that of “literary detective” Thursday Next in Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. Ms. Next even pursues a criminal into the pages of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre by traveling through “The Prose Portal.”

In sci-fi and speculative fiction, professions can get real interesting. Crake of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a geneticist — a normal-enough job — but he’s actually more of a mad scientist who practically wipes out the human race while creating a new race of beings called the Crakers.

There are also jobs that are not so unusual, but only occasionally found in works of fiction. For instance, Anne Lamott’s Blue Shoe includes an exterminator — who’s so averse to killing living things that he quits after arriving at the house of protagonist Mattie. Daniel basically ends up working as a handyman after that.

And there are jobs that now seem unusual but weren’t so offbeat back in the day. An example of that would be Queequeg as a harpoonist in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Or how about jobs that were formerly almost always held by men and thus catch our attention when held by women — as was the case with circa-World War II characters who ran a filling station in Fannie Flagg’s appropriately titled The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. (Well, a better title would have had “Woman” in it rather than “Girl.”)

What are some unusual jobs you remember from your fiction reading?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

106 thoughts on “Odd Job Is Not Just a James Bond Villain

    • I had to look up “reddleman”! Both jobs must be relatively rare these days. I suppose one could combine the two jobs and mark whales with red dye. Of course, that would make Moby-Dick even angrier…

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      • I first became aware of a reddleman when I read ‘The Return of the Native’ earlier this year, and should have mentioned it in this discussion. This is from the SparkNotes of ‘ROTN’:

        ‘Diggory Venn – Throughout most of the novel, Venn works as a semi-nomadic “reddleman”: he travels throughout the region selling the dye that farmers use to mark their sheep. As a consequence of his exposure to the dye, his entire body and everything he owns are dyed red. Entirely red, camping out on the heath in his wagon, and emerging mysteriously from time to time, Venn functions as an image of the heath incarnated. He watches over Thomasin Yeobright’s interests throughout the novel, but also preserves his own interests: he has long been in love with her, and at the end of the novel they marry. Venn is very clever and insightful, and can be a devious schemer.

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  1. Hi Dave, am late to the party this week. I couldn’t really think of any unusual literary occupations, however I could think of some every-day jobs, that seem quite extraordinary in the right hands. Examples include Atticus, who is just a boring old lawyer, and Hagrid, a simple groundskeeper at Hogwarts. But when I grow up, if I can be absolutely anything that I want to, then I either want to by the guy who owns “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books”, or I want to be an Oscar Wilde character, who sits around discussing life and art and philosophy all day 🙂

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    • Great point, Susan! An everyday job can indeed seem almost unique in the right hands. And, as you know, Hagrid — given his “tasks” such as lovingly taking care of magical creatures — was certainly not a typical groundskeeper. 🙂

      Owning “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books” — love it! And, yes, sitting around discussing art and philosophy is an excellent profession. Will check that out on Jobs.com as soon as I post this… 🙂

      Never too late to comment!

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  2. A tangent: Strange job for the author department:

    Haven’t managed to find Faulkner’s own description (it’s in his intro to Sanctuary) of the conditions under which he wrote As I Lay Dying, but here are two paraphrases:

    “As I Lay Dying is a 1930 novel by American author William Faulkner. Faulkner said that he wrote the novel from midnight to 4:00 AM over the course of six weeks and that he did not change a word of it.[1] Faulkner wrote it while working at a power plant…”– wikipedia

    “As I Lay Dying was scribbled on the back of a wooden wheelbarrow until its publication while Faulkner worked at an electric company shoveling coal. He came up with the title the day after the stock market crashed on Wall Street.”– Book Rags

    As I remember it, Faulkner worked the night shift under little supervision, and so, when nobody was looking, set down his shovel, flipped over his wheelbarrow and used it as a makeshift desk. Of course, it’s a good story, so good, it may be a story. I’d check the manuscript for coal dust….

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      • I do remember the column, and hoped I hadn’t mentioned this tale in the comments section at the time….

        As I Lay Dying is a tough one, at least about on par with The Sound, etc.– another work of experimental fiction. Read it in college– haven’t ventured a revisit since.

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        • The power-plant tale didn’t sound familiar, jhNY. And given that HP unfeelingly wiped out all the comments under older posts, I guess there’s no way of knowing for sure what any of us said in 2012. 😦

          Yikes — I didn’t realize “As I Lay Dying” was quite as experimental as “The Sound and the Fury,” which I tried to read twice and gave up on each time before I reached page 30. If I have to also drop “As I Lay Dying,” I will. Given that I have a paperback version, it wouldn’t make much of a…”Sound”…as it hits the floor. But I will try hard to like it, just as I very much liked Faulkner’s less-experimental “Light in August.”

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          • ‘As I Lay Dying’ is a novel that most people I know have read when they couldn’t read ‘Sound and the Fury’. The only similarity with ‘Sound and the Fury’ is that, whereas ‘SATF’ is told through large novella-sized sections, ‘AILD’ is told by about 20 something points of view. It goes back and forth through the various points of view but one never loses the thread of the story, which is pretty linear i.e. a family’s trek with the mother’s body to bury it where she wanted to be buried. Most of the sections are relatively straightforward to anyone who can infer who someone is in relation to someone else (it’s the same technique George R.R. Martin has adopted for telling all of his ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ books). It’s much more straightforward and if in doubt, just consult SparkNotes (the current online equivalent of the old Cliffs or Monarch Notes). The novel is also fairly short, between 200 and 300 pages. The cumulative effect helps you see everyone in relation to someone else. If you’ll recall, ‘Light in August’ had some ‘experimental’ passages as well. I think reading it is entirely feasible simply from the standpoint of figuring out what’s actually happening on the physical level.

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            • Re SATF and ASILD: Can’t say I had real trouble with either, or with one more than the other, but can say: each is an experiment, in the spirit of what was then something newish, having to do with form and point of view– like had happened earlier in the visual arts first, and then fiction itself, as by Joyce. But neither are straightforward linear tales, so I thought a warning wouldn’t hurt.

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  3. Oddest job from my Memphis days:

    During a weekend sleepover, the grandmother of my friend who was hosting the sleepover came over to the house with a bunch of pots and food items. The grandmother was a part-time caterer. Her assistant bailed on her at the last minute, and she needed help with food prep before her scheduled event the next day.

    Any parent who’s ever hosted a sleepover should know the routine. The girls eat pizza and popcorn, do our hair, give each other manicures/pedicures, watch music videos, and talk about cute boys. This particular sleepover started out that way…but ended with us working in the kitchen for the rest of the night.

    I was put on tamale duty. My job was to fill, roll, and steam the husks. The grandmother liked the good job I did and “promoted” me to the job of assisting her in making the beef and pork mixture. For helping out in the kitchen, we all received $20, but I got $10 more because I was the only one who helped the grandmother load the food in the truck. What started out as a typical tween & teen weekend sleepover turned into a quick job that paid me 30 bucks. Good times, good times. Anyway, on to the topic:

    (1) In Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, Taylor befriended a woman named Mattie who owned a business called Jesus Is Lord’s Used Tires. After working a series of jobs to support herself as well as her informally adopted daughter, Taylor finally took a job at the tire shop. One usually doesn’t associate women with working in gritty/dirty/oily tire shops, so out of all the jobs that Taylor had, this one stood out the most. And Kingsolver wins extra cool points for the very unique name of the shop. Sounds like it could be a tire shop and church all rolled into one. Say a prayer and get your tires rotated at the same time…lol.

    (2) Charlie Bucket’s father in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory worked at a toothpaste factory. His father was not a supervisor, nor did he work on the machines. Mr. Bucket’s job was to twist the caps on the tubes of toothpaste after they were filled. That’s it. He sat on a stool in a room all day with a box of toothpaste caps in his lap. As the filled bottles came down the machine, he put the caps on. The company eventually automated this process, and Mr. Bucket lost that job. I know it wasn’t funny, but the way that Roald Dahl described the toothpaste cap job made me chuckle. Never came across toothpaste cap twisters in literature before; Mr. Bucket’s job both amused and confused me.

    (3) Doc from Cannery Row was not your typical biologist. He did a lot more outside the scope of what biologists do. Doc served as the go-to person for medical services even though he didn’t have a medical licence or training as a doctor, nurse, physician’s assistant, etc. Steinbeck didn’t state this directly, but he wrote enough clues regarding the informal doctor-patient relationship between Doc and the working girls at The Bear Flag.

    Certain passages and paragraphs allude to how Doc assisted the girls with certain areas of reproductive health. There were herbs and potions in the Western Laboratory that are/were known for causing spontaneous abortions (miscarriages). Doc provided these herbal meds to the girls when needed. Also, his lab was directly across the street from The Bear Flag. Steinbeck made sure to highlight that fact and described how the girls frequently visited Doc for medical treatment and advice.

    Doc was the closest thing to a physician the residents of Cannery Row had. On paper he was just a marine biologist, but in practice, he was so much more.

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    • Great, well-described memories of your “Night of the Tamales,” Ana! And a great comment in general. Thanks for mentioning those characters from “The Bean Trees,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and “Cannery Row.”

      Your interesting discussion of the second book brings up how certain odd jobs have been eliminated because of automation.

      And your equally interesting discussion of Doc in “Cannery Row” reminded me of Dr. Wilbur Larch, who also secretly performed abortions — in John Irving’s “The Cider House Rules.”

      As you of course know, Doc was based on John Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts. Thought you might like to see today’s New York Times article on the boat you’ve mentioned that Steinbeck and Ricketts were on: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/13/us/in-act-of-love-steinbecks-boat-is-being-given-a-new-life.html?_r=0

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      • $30 was a lot of money for a tween. My parents made me put half into my savings account. The other half financed my after-school snacks and mall trinkets, so I had no complaints:)

        SO GLAD The Western Flyer will be put to good use. After the nonsense with the bar idea, I just knew Steinbeck’s boat was going to fall into the hands of some greedy developer. I want to go and take pictures of the boat in its original condition. I’m sure it’s covered in rust and barnacles, but to me, it would still be one of the most beautiful pieces ever.

        I wonder if the dock workers would allow me to pose in front of the boat while holding up my copy of Grapes of Wrath…

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  4. ” For instance, Anne Lamott’s Blue Shoe includes an exterminator — who’s so averse to killing living things that he quits after arriving at the house of protagonist Mattie. Daniel basically ends up working as a handyman after that.”

    Then there’s William Burroughs’ early story “Exterminator!”, based in part on labors that Burroughs himself at one time hired himself out to perform… Why an heir to a business machine fortune had to do such nasty work is probably due to a breakdown in family politics.

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  5. Unusual protagonist professions? Here’s a few to chew on, all from one strange book:

    A man who makes his living, and a pretty good one– if precarious– by writing pornography for a client who turns out to be Hitler, yeah THAT Hitler, is the featured character in “The Tours of the Black Clock” (1989) by Steve Erickson. A woman “dances men to death” who succumb by merely watching her in action. A South American freedom fighter who goes up, with his band of fighting patriots, against the German occupation of the New World in an alternate Twentieth Century. Another character in the book makes his living by ferrying passengers between an island and the mainland, yet for some years manages to stay on his boat without setting foot on the island where he grew up. Seems mythical, even, that last one…yet there are more exotic sorts throughout in this novel, including ice buffalo,whose author enjoyed a rarity possibly more rare than the professions described– he was blurbed by Thomas Pynchon, writin’ recluse. “Steve Erickson has that rare and luminous gift for reporting back from the nocturnal side of reality.” I believe this sentence more or less paraphrases stuff Joseph Campbell used to say about heroes…

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  6. Hi Dave … working a lot this week, so just dropping in from time to time to read the comments. Your post references some unfamiliar books and your descriptions make me want to know more about them (Half-Broken Things, for example). Have a great week, Dave 🙂

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    • Thanks, Pat, for stopping by when you have so much work. Good luck with it!

      “Half-Broken Things” is a strange, spooky, riveting novel. A psychological, kind-of-low-key thriller. And it’s interesting the way it assembles a “family” of unrelated people.

      Hope you have a great week, too!

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  7. Hi Dave, J.J. McGrath mentioned “The Name of the Rose,” but I found myself unable to get past the first few pages. It did remind me of a series a while ago about a Catholic priest who solved mysteries, but I don’t remember the author, as well as the series about Rabbi Small (Harry Kimmelman, I think?).There is a more modern series about a female Episcopalian priest by Julia Spencer-Fleming, that I love. I also thought about the Lord Peter Wimsey series, not so much about a member of the Aristocrasy who is an amateur detective finding his true love, a mystery writer, but about the founding of Miss Klimpson’s secretarial business as a front for them being used as detectives, before it was acceptable for women (who aren’t married) to be smart and accomplished women

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    • I enjoyed “The Name of the Rose,” Kat Lib, but of course we all have different feelings about certain novels and that’s one reason discussing literature is so much fun!

      And, yes, religious figures who double as amateur detectives definitely make for an unusual job combination. As you probably know, another amateur detective — Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen — has a day job running a small-town post office in Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy mysteries (that also feature a cat and dog doing some detective work).

      As for Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series, I really liked the “Strong Poison” novel you recommended! 🙂

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    • Howdy, Kat Lib!

      — J.J. McGrath mentioned “The Name of the Rose,” but I found myself unable to get past the first few pages. —

      Ah, well. Some roses smell better than others.

      — It did remind me of a series a while ago about a Catholic priest who solved mysteries, but I don’t remember the author —

      I personally have not read any of the pieces in G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown series of stories, but I like the British television show based on them that is carried by the American Public Broadcasting Service, so Chesterton may be the fellow to whom you have alluded here.

      J.J.

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      • J.J., thanks, I read the Father Brown mysteries a long time ago and had forgotten about them, but I did enjoy them very much. I didn’t know that there was a BBC series about them, so I will have to check them out some day. The priest I was remembering is American and I still can’t recall his name!

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          • — it just came to me that it was the Father Koesler series by William X. Kienzle —

            Wow! I had neither heard nor read about either Father Koesler or William X. Kienzle until today, but our droogies at Wikipedia advise me both were central to the creation of the film “The Rosary Murders,” whose title rings a bell. Thanks for mentioning them!

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  8. Great topic, but I found it harder than I first thought to think of examples.

    Professors in literature are not that uncommon, but I recently read Don DiLillo’s “White Noise.” But the main character is on the faculty of a small liberal arts college, and is a professor of “Hitler Studies”. His friend/colleague is trying to develop a similar curriculum based on Elvis.

    Leopold Bloom, from Joyce’s “Ulysses” is a newspaper ad salesman. I’ve not come across that profession before or since in a book.

    Oscar, the main character in Gunter Grass’s “The Tin Drum” had a variety of strange occupations, including circus dwarf, nude model, and gravestone engraver (mentioned by you in the Scott novel), before becoming a jazz drummer.

    There is a wonderful, but depressing, novella by Nathaniel West, “Miss Lonelyhearts” in which the main characters finds himself writing an advice column for the forlorn during the Great Depression.

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    • drb, those are EXCELLENT examples of unusual jobs! Hard to top Oscar of “The Tin Drum” as a character who worked SO many “odd” jobs.

      Another Don DeLillio novel, “Underworld,” also has someone in a fairly common profession (artist) do something not that common (painting decommissioned warplanes).

      Thanks for the terrific comment!

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  9. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are some unusual jobs you remember from your fiction reading? —

    Before there was a detective Adrian Monk in Andy Breckman’s redoubtable television series “Monk,” there was a monk-cum-detective William of Baskerville in Umberto Eco’s even more redoubtable novel “The Name of the Rose”: OK, the book’s protagonist was not actually a monk but really a friar — however, almost nobody outside (or inside) the Roman Catholic Church can detail the differences among its assortment of consecrated religious orders, which, of course, directly led to the time-honored joke about an English medieval fair that centers on a fairgoer’s confusing of the fish friar with the chip monk.

    Meanwhile, you don’t see all that many friars-cum-detectives, in or out of books, even among those whose names immediately bring to mind Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous literary invention.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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    • The friar-detective in “The Name of the Rose”! Great example of an unusual profession, or rather an unusual combination of professions! And Umberto Eco’s novel is great, too. I liked it a lot better than his “Foucault’s Pendulum,” which had its moments but which I often found tedious, too.

      Loved the way you wrote your comment — including its initial segue from the “Monk” show, and that chip monk line. Ha! 🙂

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      • — Umberto Eco’s novel is great, too. I liked it a lot better than his “Foucault’s Pendulum,” which had its moments but which I often found tedious —

        Come the next end of the world, this could be nicely reworked to serve as Philosophy’s epitaph, as written by Kilgore Trout: “It Had Its Moments, But Was Often Tedious.”

        Meanwhile, I have not yet read the great philosopher-semiotician-writer’s “Foucault’s Pendulum,” but it is on The List. Given its position thereon, I anticipate completing it July 1, 2025, circa noon EDT, unless, of course, I am hit by the M42 bus between now and then.

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    • A Few More Monks

      from the wikipedia: “Brother Cadfael is the main fictional character in a series of historical murder mysteries written between 1977 and 1994 by the linguist-scholar Edith Pargeter under the name “Ellis Peters”. The character of Cadfael himself is a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey, in western England, in the first half of the 12th century.”
      Never read ’em myself, but did see several episodes of the BBC dramatizations, which were a bit hokey, yet entertaining. Derek Jacoby starred.

      Then there’s “The Monk” (1796), by Matthew Lewis, which was in its time, as Sir Walter Scott wrote: “so highly popular that it seemed to create an epoch in our literature.” (Just happened to have picked this up last week[!})

      Monks, one a shape-shifting demonic type, figure in “The Devil’s Elixirs” (1815) by ETA Hoffmann, as does his saintly foil. The book is like a nightmare transcribed in to print, with murders, secret loves, secret kinships, and betrayals throughout. Highly influenced, if not based on Lewis’ “The Monk”, according to its introductory notes. I shall soon see, once, Lewis’ “The Monk” is behind me…

      An order of devil-worshiping phantom monks who host an unwary traveler is the subject of “Secret Worship”(1908), a short story by Algernon Blackwood.

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  10. Right now I’m reading Trans Atlantic by Colum McCann. One of the characters is an Ice Man. There was a lengthy description of how he sinks a lake to get the ice thick enough, before drilling, scoring and cutting the ice blocks, then storing them so they would keep through the year. I never knew how they came up with blocks of ice before the days of refrigeration. It’s a fascinating process.

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    • Fantastic example of an unusual job, Betsy! Thank you! I also hadn’t known how blocks of ice were created in pre-refrigeration times.

      This has virtually nothing to do with your great comment, but there’s a Marx Brothers movie (forget which one) with a hilarious recurring scenario of one of the brothers carrying/delivering big blocks of ice when it made little sense to be doing so.

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      • Regarding early comedy and blocks of ice, I also recall one of the Three Stooges shorts where Curly is carrying a block of ice with giant ice tongs on his back up several flights of steps to the front of an apartment on a hot day. By the time he gets to the top the ice has melted to a tiny ice cube. Further moronic stooge antics follow involving the ice falling back all the flights of steps after figuring out a way to keep it cold enough to survive all those flights of steps. That image has lodged in my brain from childhood when the Stooges were part of my cultural education.

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      • The harvesting and shipping of ice– most of it from New England ponds– made the fortune of an early US entrepreneur, Frederic Tudor. One of the ponds from which he gathered his goods: Walden Pond, where that Thoreau fellow was a fixture.

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    • I do remember linotype! Being an operator of that type of printing press does seem rare and quaint now.

      I’ve only read Updike’s first “Rabbit” novel — “Rabbit, Run.” A really well-done book, but I found Angstrom to be so unsympathetic it wasn’t an always easy-to-read book.

      Thanks, Almost Iowa!

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    • Yes I do. I worked for a major metropolitan daily in the 1970’s, and sometimes had occasion to watch the linotype man in operation while fetching something from his work area for the newsroom.

      Looked impressively complicated yet creaky even way back then.

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        • Dave’s answer is sort of right– the linotype machine has more to do with typesetting.

          Here’s wikipedia (I visited to save you a trip):

          “The linotype machine (/ˈlaɪnətaɪp/ LYN-ə-typ) is a “line casting” machine used in printing. Along with letterpress printing, linotype was the industry standard for newspapers, magazines and posters from the late 19th century to the 1960s and 70s, when it was largely replaced by offset lithography printing and computer typesetting. The name of the machine comes from the fact that it produces an entire line of metal type at once, hence a line-o’-type, a significant improvement over the previous industry standard, i.e., manual, letter-by-letter typesetting using a composing stick and drawers of letters.

          The linotype machine operator enters text on a 90-character keyboard. The machine assembles matrices, which are molds for the letter forms, in a line. The assembled line is then cast as a single piece, called a slug, of type metal in a process known as “hot metal” typesetting. The matrices are then returned to the type magazine from which they came, to be reused later. This allows much faster typesetting and composition than original hand composition in which operators place down one pre-cast metal letter, punctuation mark or space at a time.

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  11. Dave, I read this year the book “The Year of Soup” in which the narrator was a soup maker. Chef would be the profession, but she was never trained and only makes soup.

    A couple of ‘cozy mysteries’ on my docket to read have a flower arranger and a bed & breakfast owner as characters.

    One could also say Sherlock had a unusual job when he was first written. After all consultants and private detectives weren’t common things yet. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple might also qualify as the old woman had no job. She was a pensioner and didn’t do anything but gather information on people.

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    • That’s definitely a specializing chef, GL!

      And GREAT point about Sherlock Holmes. Certain professions that are now fairly common were unusual in their early days. Which means Poe’s private detective C. Auguste Dupin (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” etc.) was also a rarity in his 19th-century time.

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  12. I’m reminded of two somewhat unusual occupations for characters. Actually, these are fairly normal occupations given a spin.

    One of Richard Brautigan’s novels, ‘The Abortion’, which concerns a first person narrator who lives and works in a 24-hour library which is different from standard libraries. It’s been several years since I read it so I will just quote the Wikipedia article:

    ‘The Abortion is a genre novel parody[1] concerning the librarian of a very unusual California library which accepts books in any form and from anyone who wishes to drop one off at the library—children submit tales told in crayon about their toys; teenagers tell tales of angst and old people drop by with their memoirs—described as “the unwanted, the lyrical and haunted volumes of American writing” in the novel.[2] Summoned by a silver bell at all hours, submissions are catalogued at the librarian’s discretion; not by the Dewey Decimal system, but by placement on whichever magically dust-free shelf would, in the author’s judgment, serve best as the book’s home.[3]’

    In a sense, Brautigan predicted the future. We now have ‘little free libraries’, boxes by the side of the road where people can take a book and leave a book. Only difference is that these libraries are not staffed. At the time I read this in the 70’s, however, it seemed so bizarre and the future librarian in me imagined having this guy’s job. As I recall, the book written in crayon was titled ‘My Bike’ by Chuck.

    Another uncoventional occupation can be found in Laurel K. Hamilton’s ‘Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter’ series. My ex-wife loved these books and I agreed to try them and read the first three, which were actually pretty good. They were first person narratives, almost in a Philip Marlowe style ‘hard-boiled’ manner. I’m going to quote Wikipedia again:

    ‘The series is narrated in the first person by Anita Blake, who works in St. Louis, Missouri, as a professional zombie raiser, vampire executioner and supernatural consultant for the police. The early novels focus predominantly on crime-solving and action; the later ones on Anita’s personal and sexual relationships and powers.

    The series takes place in a parallel universe where supernatural creatures and powers are real and their presence is public knowledge. Supernatural beings are considered citizens with most of the rights of regular humans. The novels follow legal vampire executioner Anita Blake’s ongoing conflicts with the supernatural as she attempts to solve a variety of mysteries, come to terms with her own abilities, and navigate an increasingly complex series of romantic and political relationships. As the series progresses, Anita’s perspective on the supernatural changes; initially she sees preternatural beings simply as “monsters” to be fought, and later grows to see them as communities to be protected, as well as possible love interests.’

    Sometime I might continue that series. I’m sure she still has those books so I might borrow them. From what I hear, however, they become more concerned with the erotic attraction of vampires with variant sexual habits than they are with the initial mysteries of this somewhat ‘hidden’ segment of the population.

    I will also return to Brautigan at some point. The first ex-wife loved him and, while I am happy never to cross paths with her again, I am grateful to her for introducing me to this unique, interesting and largely forgotten author.

    Liked by 1 person

    • An unusual librarian, and a vampire hunter — nice, Brian! Great descriptions, too, of the books they appeared in. The Richard Brautigan novel and Laurel K. Hamilton’s “Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” series both sound fascinating and entertaining.

      I guess if a certain 2012 movie is to be believed, Abraham Lincoln was a vampire hunter like Ms. Blake was. (“Four score and seven pints of blood ago…”) Nice to know that there are no gender limitations in that profession. 🙂

      Also interesting is being introduced to authors by people we’re no longer married to, as was the case with you. I’m drawing a total blank on any novelist my “ex” made me aware of, but the person I’m married to now introduced me to various French authors: Balzac, Zola, Colette, and Camus.

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  13. Three authors (and 3 professions) immediately come to mind, Dave:

    – Dorothy Gilman who wrote the Mrs. Pollifax series about an elderly widow who becomes an operative for the CIA.
    – Paul Gallico who wrote the Mrs. ‘Arris series of books about an English charwoman and her wonderful adventures.
    – Dick Francis who wrote about 40 mysteries where the main characters were closely associated with the British horse racing world, either as a jockeys, trainers, etc.

    None of the books by these authors could be considered great literature, but they are great fun to read. I am awfully fond of Emily Pollifax and Mrs. ‘Arris, and Dick Francis wrote VERY engaging fiction, maybe not as enticing as Jack Reacher fiction, but really fun to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, lulabelle — it’s not easy coming up with unusual professions in literature, and you named three-plus interesting ones! Thanks for the excellent descriptions of the books they appear in! An elderly widow as a CIA operative — now THAT’S not something one sees every day.

      Your mention of Paul Gallico also reminded me of his novel “The Poseidon Adventure,” a trashy book that was very hard to put down.

      Literature doesn’t have to be great to be worth reading — and almost nothing is as enticing as a Jack Reacher novel! I’ve now read 14 of them (finished “Echo Burning” last week) — which means just six to go!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t remember who had written the Mrs. ‘Arris series until I Googled it tonight and was surprised to see that he had also written “The Poseidon Adventure”. I never read the novel, but the movie was an epic disaster movie during the era of epic disaster movies. I remember vividly watching it. My temperature rose from the stress. I recall that happening only one other time and that was while watching “Deliverance”, the movie based on the James Dickey novel.

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    • lulabelle, thanks for the reminder about the Mrs. Pollifax series. I had read them when they were first coming out, and when I was going through a rough time medically and otherwise in the late 1980s, this was one of the few series that I could re-read — fun and not too “heavy.” I also have enjoyed the many Dick Francis mysteries. I don’t think I read any of the Mrs. ‘Arris books, but Galllico wrote several books about cats; one that I remember is “The Silent Miaow.”

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  14. Hi Dave, One of the very quirky novels I’ve read in the past few years was “The Family Fang,” (by Kevin Wilson) about two performance artists, who use their two children (Annie, Child A, and Buster, Child B) in their “art.” Things finally come to a head when as adults, they are pulled into their parents disappearance — or is this just another performance? Another was “Then We Came to the End,” by Joshua Ferris about an ad agency — not exactly odd — but it is told in the first person plural, so everything is “We” not “I” (which is a very interesting when you consider a business that is a cubicle culture in which everyone is different, but the same). Another book, which I’ve mentioned before, is “Attachments,” by Rainbow Rowell, whose main character is the email police, who spends nights sifting through emails to discover who is saying things not work-related, yet becomes very interested in the emails of two girlfriends. Finally, there is the series written by Lisa Lutz, the Spellman Files series, in which most of the family is spying on others, while at the same time, spying on each other. It is very funny!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Performance artists who use their children — that IS an unusual profession, Kat Lib! And “The Family Fang” sounds like a very interesting book.

      An email “cop” is also offbeat (even when on the beat 🙂 ). Reminds me of computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, who could secretly read emails with the best of them in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy novels.

      Thanks for the wide-ranging comment!

      Like

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