With summer–and summer Fridays–on the wane, Labor Day can be a cruel reminder that you’ll probably spend most of the coming days indoors at your desk (at least until Thanksgiving). While the daily grind is seldom glamorous, these books centering around office life show that it can be funny, touching and even profound.
“Bartleby the Scrivener,” by Herman Mellville
Bartleby was the predecessor to Milton of “Office Space” and every other cog in the workplace who dared to take a stand. So, when the drudgery at the office becomes unbearable, remember Bartleby’s immortal line: “I would prefer not to.”
“The Pale King,” by David Foster Wallace
At a certain extreme of office life reside the accountants, those noble souls who elevate sheer data crunching to a Zen-like trance. One character in Wallace’s novel becomes so intensely focused that he actually levitates–but just an inch or two.
“Then We Came to the End,” by Joshua Ferris
Sometimes at work we feel like we’re all in this together. (Sometimes.) Ferris takes this feeling literally–his novel is narrated from the first-person plural. The collective is wise: “We liked wasting time, but almost nothing was more annoying than having our wasted time wasted on something not worth wasting it on.”
“I Don’t Know How She Does It,” by Allison Pearson
Allison Pearson’s novel, “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” asks: How to achieve the perfect work/life balance? Kate Reddy is a hedge-fund manager and the mother of two small children. How does she do it? Little bits of wisdom help, like how to “distress” a store-bought pie to make it look homemade.
“The Manual of Detection,” by Jedediah Berry
Charles Unwin is an ordinary clerk at a detective agency who prefers being an ordinary clerk, filing and crosschecking and generally doing a good, ordinary job. So he’s understandably put out when the star at the agency is murdered, and Unwin is promoted to lead dick–with his former boss’s death as his first case.
“The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” by Sloan Wilson
Tom Rath is another ordinary soul who wants to disappear into a decent job. But it’s the very force of conformity that makes him reassess–and carve out an identity for himself apart from being just another man in a gray flannel suit.
“The Imperfectionists,” by Tom Rachman
There’s nothing like working your butt off in a dying industry. But in this English newspaper office in Rome, despite the stained carpets and the crazed rantings of editors, journalism somehow seems like a noble enterprise.
“e,” by Matt Beaumont
Do you ever wish that you could spy into your coworkers’ inboxes to see what they really spend all their time doing? This novel consists of nothing but: a furious exchange of ideas, insecurities and fun at another’s expense–all over email.
“Metamorphosis and Other Stories,” by Franz Kafka
There’s nothing worse than work dreams–when the office sneaks into your subconscious and invades your few precious, private hours. Well, at least there’s almost nothing worse … until you wake up from those troubled dreams having turned into a cockroach. Just be sure to check that your limbs are still human ones the next time your boss looks at you like something that must be scraped off her shoe.