Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Favorite book about work? Ed Park’s “Personal Days”

By Jane Ciabattari

Work is the all-American pastime, taking more and more of our waking hours, and infiltrating our sleep. It’s been grist for books from Studs Terkel’s Working to Joshua Ferris’ And Then We Came to the End to Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, set in an ad agency circa Mad Men, which begins with these evocative lines: “I get the willies when I see closed doors. Even at work, where I am doing so well now, the sight of a closed door is sometimes enough to make me dread that something horrible is happening behind it, something that is going to affect me adversely; if I am tired and dejected from a night of lies or booze or sex or just plain nerves or insomnia, I can almost smell the disaster mounting invisibly and flooding out toward me through the frosted glass panes.”

Recently we asked NBCC members, former awards winners and finalists, What’s your favorite book about work? The responses to this latest NBCC Reads series poured in (a few within minutes). Books ranged all over the map. A few books gathered multiple endorsements.We started off with Philip Levine's What Work Is. Here's the next.

Saul Austerlitz:

“I don't know if it's my absolute favorite, but I have a definite soft spot for Ed Park's Personal Days.  Released after Then We Came to the End, it bore the unfair burden of being compared to Ferris' novel, but Personal Days has its own quirky momentum, and a comic verve borne of Park's talent for linguistic experimentation, and (presumably) his experiences as an editor at the flailing Village Voice.

Michael Lindgren:

“Ed Park's comic novella Personal Days  is too slight and whimsical to qualify as a major fictional exploration of anything, really, but its deadpan take on white-collar wage slavery is, in its own small, irreverent way, just about perfect. Park's depiction of the doings at a nameless, failing agency in downtown New York is in tune with the essential absurdity of office life, the way that the hothouse atmosphere of enforced proximity inevitably produces, bizarre behavior and the weird hum of low-level sexual tension. My first job out of college parachuted me into cubicle-land; Park's book took me there again, effortlessly.”