Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Marcela Valdes’ Favorite Book about Work


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.”

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. Several books gathered multiple endorsements, including Philip Levine's “What Work Is,” Ed Park's
Personal Days”, Tom Rachman's “The Imperfectionists,” “Two-Up” by NBCC board member Eric Miles Williamson, George Orwell's “Down and Out in Paris and London.”  The long tail of individual favorites began with
NBCC Balakian award winner Joan Acocella's pick, Penelope Fitzgerald's “Human Voices.” Today's entry is from NBCC board member Marcela Valdes, who was a 2010 Nieman Fellow at Harvard and was honored with the Center for Fiction's 2010 Roger Shattuck Award for Criticism.


We often like to think that poor people somehow deserve their poverty, because they're lazy or because they're wasteful. David Shipler's The Working Poor: Invisible in America (2004) puts an end to such comforting prejudices. In chapter after chapter, he introduces us to families that work long, hard hours and still barely make ends meet. He explains why poor people are more likely to get audited by the IRS, and why even our shameful official poverty rate — 15.1% at last count — is deceptively low. Sad to say, this is the best book about work for our threadbare recession times.