June 30, 2008


John Shannon

Funny no one mentioned the slacker classic, Microserfs by Douglas Coupland.

Donna Rifkind

Also, the entire genre of crime fiction is very specific about what police, FBI, coroner investigators, etc. do at work every day.

Antoine Wilson

When I started reading Josh Ferris' book I immediately thought he was riffing on "Something Happened."

Sue Buchman

"Kings of Infinite Space" is a satiric horror novel of life at the office--great fun.


Melville's "Bartleby"! An office tale through and through.


Yates's "Revolutionary Road."


How about Iain Lewison's Since the Layoffs? Another good novel on mindless jobs is Devil Born Without Horns by Michael Lucas.


Duane Swierczynski's Severance Package pretty much says it all about being fired.


There is a new collection from The New Press coming out soon called "Mind the Store: Great Literature about Business, from Tolstoy to Now". It includes stuff like Joseph Heller's "The Office in Which I Work and O. Henry's "The Man Higher Up".


It's not exactly about office life, but George Gissing's New Grub Street deals with the economic constraints and possibilities of writing as a profession.

Anna Clark

Grapes of Wrath makes work and labor central. H
ouse of Mirth wrestles with money and work, especially in its last third.

Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses is one of the best examples of work in fiction that I can think of.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich makes the work of a Soviet labor camp very key.

Joseph Conrad's The Shadow-Line is a wonderful working story of a young captain.

Andrea Barrett's fiction is full of scientists, naturalists, sailors, explorers, and others whose work engages them with the natural world. Ship Fever and Servants of the Map are incredible stories

Marilyn Hollman

One of the best is 'The Axe" by Donald Westlake.
Well, it's really about being out of work -- comic tragedy.

Matthew  Jones

Primo Levi writes often of his own work (as a chemist) and that of others (for example "The Wrench").

Charles Bukowski- Factotum and Post Office (Factotum is the better of the two in my opinion).

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."