Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Three Best Books about Work I've Read

Studs Terkel's oral histories are treasure troves. (The zombie novel, World War Z is actually an homage to Turkel's WWII history, The Good War.) His book Working (which was made into a musical), is a tapestry woven from many voices--celebrating the working woman and man in all their diversity. There is pride in work here--from the construction worker who likes looking at a skyline and seeing what he has helped build--but there is also despair and anger. But most of all there is a sense that work gives meaning to a life. The book was published in 1974 and in the 40-some years since, some of the jobs chronicled have ceased to exist. Writers, especially, should dip into this book--the characters are real, and fascinating, and original.

Barbara Ehrenreich is a writer with a feminist slant who has written on subjects as diverse as God and sex workers. When she set out to investigate the idea that a job--any job--could be the key to a better life, she went undercover to see just how that might work. The answer was--not very well. Her book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, is an eye-opener that anyone who has voted against a minimum wage needs to read. Ehrenreich's prose is graceful, and the book never descends into ranting, though there is passion here. She had an idea that all was not as rosy as it appeared on the surface, but some of what she found (particularly insie a "cleaning service job") shocked her. It will shock the reader too.

The latest book I'm recommending is Diane Mulcahy's The Gig Economy, which has a totally different focus. Yes, it talks about how work has transformed from a linear career to a series of "gigs" strung together by workers, but Mulcahy's focus is on how making this new reality work for a worker.  It's not just fast food workers and Uber drivers, she points out. As an adjunct professor, she's also part of the gig economy, moving from position to position in what one reviewer called, "an empowering search for freedom." As someone who has been a full-time freelancer for more than 20 years, and someone who has had to
hustle for gigs on Craigslist at times, I can vouch for the freedom, but also for the uncertainty. Mulcahy's book has some great strategies and tips for finding more and better work and also some pep alks about defining and refining goals. Well worth the read.


  1. NICKLE AND DIMED was a real favorite of my book group. I saw the play of WORKING. It was terrific. And read the book way back when.

    1. I love the play WORKING. I've seen it a couple of times. Barbara Ehrenreich is one of my favorite writers.