Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Work: Boring or Important?

I've written before about how strange I find the disconnect between "work" and literature.  While there are television shows (The Office) and movies (Office Space) which explore the role that work plays in the lives of the people who show up every morning at eight in the a.m., the idea that worklife has something to offer seems to be largely missing from the publishing industry.

Jennifer Shuessler of The New York Times suggests in "Take This Job and Write It" that this may because young novelists don't have any experience in the white collar industry, which is where a large percentage of Americans make their livelihood, but I have a hard time believing this when so few "young" authors are published, anyway.  Alain de Botton of The Boston Globe calls for a "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Data-Entry Supervisor," pointing out that if literature focused on the world of work, it might invigorate our perception of work.  After all, it's a real drag to show up at the office every morning when you have a hard time seeing the value of it beyond your bi-weekly pay check.

It is for these reasons that I so enjoyed Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End and I picked up Something Happened by Joseph Heller several weeks ago at a used bookstore.  These are books that are exploring the meaning behind where I spend 10 hours a day.  Whether or not a particular field of work is "good" is for each person to decide, but it's important to realize that it's more than just boring.  (By the way, if anyone can recommend another book about "work," please do.  I'm definitely in a frame of mind to read it.)


Homero said...

Is it anything like "Cath 22"? I've picked that up and down so many times. I just can't get into it.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

So far, I'd say yes, in that I've read about the same amount of both of them (which is approximately 20 pages). Other than that, it's a little early to tell.

Homero said...

One of the books that I'm going to send you is called "The Lecturer's Tale" which is kinda falls within this category that you're looking for. A good chunk of the book is on Google Books, actually.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Thank you!

Oh, and I have a guilty love affair with google books, in that I disagree with its ethics but find it endlessly useful.

Homero said...

As a wannabe writer, I dislike Google Books. As someone who likes to poke around and do lots of swatches of reading, I love it.

Enbrethiliel said...


This reminds me . . . I remember reading an article that said Country music is a great genre because it celebrates an honest day's work.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

I think with the relative brevity of songs (three minutes vs. a two-and-a-half hour movie vs. a three-hundred-page-long novel) makes it easier to celebrate something that just isn't that thrilling. It's boring to read about the fact that my grandmother worked for the same company for 35 years, working in customer service when she was basically a hermit and didn't like most people, but it's an example of someone doing something IMPORTANT--especially since she was a single mom.

I'm still undecided about how one would approach the idea of an entire story about the importance of work. Marilynne Robinson gets close in GILEAD, but that's more about religion than the main character working as a small-town minister. I can't think of any books that really do the subject of working hard to support yourself and your family justice.

Homero said...

The setting of "Empire Falls" is a diner that the protagonist works at. It won a Pulitzer. Dean Koontz's "Odd" series protagonist also works in a diner. Those did not win any Pulitzers.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

It's a conspiracy against Koontz! He was ROBBED!

I think it's interesting, since you kind of brought it up, that the NYT and Boston Globe writers automatically associated "work" with "white collar," when from what I understand, the largest sector in the American job market is customer service. Work =/= white collar.

That was one reason that I liked the show Wonderfalls. It was about a girl who had a philosophy degree from Brown and worked in a gift shop in Niagara Falls.

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