Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Brenda Wineapple’s 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 award finalist Brenda Wineapple.

What leaps to my mind (oddly enough) is Theodore Dreiser's 'Sister Carrie,' which I guess is an odd choice. But Carrie's effort to find work in New York lands her in Drouet's arms as, well, a kept woman, and then Hurstwood, who sleekly manages that bar, if I remember correctly, is involved in one of the most harrowing scenes of work, where strikers and strike-breakers clash–while, meantime, Carrie finds work (her true calling) in the theater. To me, it's a wonderful book about work, women, and working.