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GOOD Books: Back to the Daily Grind

To mark the official end of fall, here are five books that humanize the daily grind of going to the office.

GOOD Books is a weekly-round up of what we’re reading and what we wish we were reading.

Chances are that for most of you, summer has been over for a while. Beach days, long weekends, and vacations are images far back in the seasonal rearview mirror. The lemon juice has been washed out of your hair, and that itty-bitty, teeny-weeny yellow-polka dot bikini? Thrown to the back of a drawer and all but forgotten in favor of blazers, button-downs, and apparel made from more than a square foot of cloth.

But while this week marked the official end of summer, we still haven’t begun to cope. So if, like us, you’re still not quite in a workplace state of mind, if there’s still a bit of margarita or piña colada in your glass (and we hope there is), here are six books to ease you back into your 9-to-5. From finding peace at work through cubicle crafts to ironic yet perhaps close-to-home adventures in other offices, the authors below have much to say about work, working and the workplace. With a GOOD Book to come home to, you might find the workday just a bit easier, and the daily grind made a little bit less, well, grinding. At the very least, the tedium of your day-to-day may look a little brighter when compared to the crazy lives of the employees in these books.

By Max Barry
352 pages. Knopf Doubleday. $14.48

Stephen Jones, a recent college graduate, has just started his career at Zephyr, a company based in a nondescript office building in Seattle, Washington. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much idea of what Zephyr does, and the harder he tries to figure it out, the more confused his perception of the company becomes. At its most basic, Jones’ job is to selling training packets to other branches within the company, packets that the higher-ups try to take back once his branch realizes they’re being sold internally at a losing margin. Barry specializes in the absurd, and his characterizations of office stereotypes are brilliant. Office donut-Nazi included.

The Pale King
By David Foster Wallace
560 pages. Little, Brown & Company. $15.98

If the day-to-day work experience is becoming a bit too monotonous, here’s a book to put it in perspective. In Wallace’s unfinished novel—cobbled together posthumously from notes and documents for print by his editor Michael Pietsch—employees of the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois are in danger of dying from sheer boredom. Yes, true death via overdose on cubicle walls, burnt coffee, and highlighters. The Pale King is less an examination into the workplace than an observational experiment into modern American’s tolerance for tedium, rife with Wallace’s penchant for frightfully perceptive and wittier-than-thou musings.

Then We Came to the End
By Joshua Ferris
416 pages. Little, Brown & Company. $11.68

At the end of a dot-com bubble, layoffs and the resulting office political struggles often take a desperate turn. At a Chicago ad agency flailing in the wake of the late-'90s economic downturn, dysfunctional employees watch as their team is picked off one at a time. In the wake of a late coworker’s demise, frightened copywriters and designers scramble to claim an errant desk chair or the last position on a mysteriously vague pro bono ad account. In an Office-esque workplace, former ad man Ferris takes a humorous approach to a decimated landscape, complete with ever increasingly long coffee breaks, across-the-desk scandal, and desperate blood lust.

By Studs Terkel
640 pages. The New Press. $16.14

Terkel provides more than just a glimpse into the concept of ‘work’ in this compilation of interviews conducted in the late 1960s and early '70s. Transporting readers with powerful monologues of what it means to actually work, Terkel interviews workers ranging in age and occupation: from parking attendants to schoolteachers to supermarket checkers. Each of the workers expresses a different opinion on the political, social, and economic ramifications of what it means for them to ‘work.’ From young to old, the interviewees reveal changing attitudes toward what they do every day. Some knowingly aspire to improve their standing, while others have accepted their place both at work and in the world.

Atlas Shrugged
By Ayn Rand
1192 pages. Penguin Group. $23.81

The quintessential Rand book. What’s an exceptional, self-sufficient, and immensely confident (read: cocky) body to do when mired in a work situation where no one else can do the job well, or at all? There’s no sympathy for the slightly slow, moronic hangers-ons afflicting main characters Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden. As Rand suggests, one option is to run away to an isolated valley somewhere west of the Mississippi and hide until the outside world collapses so the leeches of the world realize what they’re missing. If you didn’t have a brief Rand affair in college, now is the time to escape to the land of Galt. And no, it’s not just for Ron Paul. For a shortened version, flip to the back of the book and read the 100 page monologue, or alternatively, read all but those 100 pages.

Cube Chic: Take Your Office Space from Drab to Fab
By Kelley Moore
96 pages. Quirk Books. $14.38

If going to work is a drag, try a little cubicle feng shui! Moore suggests improving the work atmosphere by radically changing your environment. Through strategic placing of paper cutouts, candles, plants, lanterns, and mirrors, the cubicle can be made to feel a bit more like home. A warning: Make sure your employers don’t get a hold of this book, or they might just justify overtime with a well-placed doily.

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