Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Favorite book about work? Tom Rachman’s “The Imperfectionists”

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 NBCC Reads series poured in (a few within minutes). Books ranged all over the map. A few books gathered multiple endorsements, including Philip Levine's What Work Is, Ed Park's Personal Days, and this one:

Beth Gutcheon:

“Very much liked the Joshua Ferris but LOVED The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman, about working at a paper like the Herald Trib.  In non-fiction I very much liked Selling Ben Cheever by Ben Cheever, and The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman.” 

Paul Griffin:

“I loved Tom Rachman's recent The Imperfectionists.  The novel captured how central work is to our lives and how much our sense of identity is wrapped up in our work.  As a novel about newspapers, it showed how interconnected every corner of the world is through its well executed interlinking stories structure.  The novel illuminated how even if our home lives or our personal lives may seem more important, it is at work where we spend the most time, and it is at work where all the many intricate paths that make up our lives intersect.”