Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Andrei Codrescu’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 choice is from Andrei Codrescu, whose new book is “whatever gets you through the night: a story of sheherezade and the arabian entertainments.”

Too Loud a Solitude” by Bohumil Hrabal is about a paper recycler in a communist basement in Prague, working all day to crush books and newspapers, some of which he saves for his pleasure in his bachelor room full of books threatening to crush him to death. This is the diary of the perfect worker in an absurdly utopian world that's made a fetish from work. Hrabal is funny, bitter, and profound at once, and you can see why Milan Kundera and many others adore him. Whenever I hear our politicians crying “jobs, jobs!” these days, I think of Hrabal's laboring ant and laugh. I used to have a Rimbaud quote on a poster on my wall when I started writing poetry — it said: POETRY DEMANDS UNEMPLOYMENT. Damn right! But if you have to work, try to get a laugh out of it, or you'll end up insane.