Work Is Hell
Before he came up with The Simpsons, Matt Groening had a brilliant comic strip called Life in Hell, which explored all kindsa existential concerns through the lives of some bunnies named Binky, Sheba, and Bongo and a pair of fez-wearing twins and/or lovers named Akbar and Jeff. Sounds amazing, right? He kept it up from 1977 to 2012, and it continues to be one of my most beloved series to this day. This anthology focuses on the particulars of how WORK IS FOR JERKS, JOBS ARE FOR KNOBS, and PROFESSIONS ARE…BAD TO HAVE (I CAN’T THINK OF A RHYME). Some highlights: a breakdown of the “Nine Types of Bosses” (including “the Horny Toad,” “the Robot From Planet X,” and seven other delightful characters), advice on how to be a perfect employee (with helpful conversational tips like “I favor politics that reward the rich and punish the poor”), and a guide called “How to Tell Everyone Off, Go Into Business for Yourself, Be Completely Fulfilled, and Starve to Death.” If you’ve ever had a job that’s downright grim, this book could make it seem hilarious instead of soul-crushing, which brings us to the truest rhyme in this whole blurb: BUNNIES ARE FUNNY. (Hey, do you think the New York Times Book Review is hiring?) —Amy Rose
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
We all know what the minimum wage is meant to be, right? It’s the minimum amount of money an employer is legally required to pay its workers, ostensibly so those workers can actually get by on their salaries. Sadly, here in the United States the minimum wage is a bit of a joke (which is why lots of people are advocating for the more realistic concept of the living wage). Thirteen years ago, the culture writer Barbara Ehrenreich set out to explain why trying to support yourself with a single minimum-wage job in most cities and towns is usually pretty impossible. To that end, she took a few low-wage jobs (including waiting tables, working at Walmart, and becoming a nursing-home aide) in different regions of the U.S. and then wrote a book about it. Nickel and Dimed talks about the many ways in which our economic system is stacked against low-wage workers. Upsettingly, not much has changed since Ehrenreich first published her findings. Read this book to kick your class outrage into high gear. —Caitlin D.
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do
One of the many wonderful things about the legendary journalist, broadcaster, and historian Studs Terkel was his mission to tell the stories of “regular” people (i.e., folks who did not have the kind of power that comes with being a public figure or having a lot of money). Working, an oral history of American jobs in the mid-20th century, is one of the gems in the Terkel canon. To make it, Terkel interviewed dozens of people about their jobs, then presented their accounts in the as-told-to style, so when you’re reading, it’s as though these people are speaking to you in their own voices. You hear from a farmer, an executive, a garbage truck driver, a washroom attendant, a sex worker, an executive, a model, a film critic, an actor, a cop, a mechanic, and LOTS more people who go deep and give expert insight into how they work. They all take their jobs very seriously, and the cool thing about this book is that Terkel does, too. —Lena
Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria, and Warren Pleece
2008, First Second
Even vampires have to work a J-O-B. And it makes perfect sense that they’d work the overnight “graveyard” shift, when the killer sun is down. In this fantastic comic, Dave works as a cashier at a convenience store by night and sleeps in a coffin by day. He deals with all of the usual aggravations of customer service—things like scream-y people and even scream-ier managers. On his rare nights off, he hangs out with goths and meets a LOVE INTEREST. (I won’t spoil what happens after that.) One of my favorite things about this comic is the way the writing captures the mundane nature of working in retail. All the situations Dave encounters are so real—except, of course, the parts about drinking the blood of mortals. —Meagan
A Room of One’s Own
1929, the Hogarth Press
This little book started out as an essay based on a series of lectures in which Woolf argued that it’s much harder for women to become writers, or to be creative, than men. Why? Because until recently, most women had neither the financial freedom nor the time to explore artistic pursuits. In one of her most famous arguments, she asks the reader to imagine that Shakespeare had an equally brilliant sister, Judith, who didn’t get the education or freedom he did. William ends up being Shakespeare, and poor Judith gets pregnant out of wedlock and kills herself to avoid being persecuted or forced into marriage. Thankfully, things aren’t quite as bleak now, but one of Woolf’s best arguments still stands today: Women, she says, need to write about women—we should represent ourselves and our histories in our art. Why are women’s contributions to culture and civilization so often overlooked? Woolf says it’s up to us to write our stories down, as well as to make new ones. —Monika
Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do
Edited by Meredith Maran
Last December, I was feeling completely burned out about writing. I went to lunch with my fellow Rookie Danielle, who listened to me cry about it for an hour or so and then dragged me to the bookstore to buy this book, which contains essays about the work of writing by all sorts of brilliant authors, including Jennifer Egan, Terry McMillan, Mary Karr, and 17 others. “When you are feeling shitty about your writing, skim through it, pick a person, read their story, and feel better,” she recommended. Each writer offers helpful advice and talks openly about why they write and the challenges they write through. Knowing that bestselling and respected authors experience some of the same fears and anxieties I do really lifted some of the weight that was holding me down, and hearing about what motivated them motivated me. If you are a writer looking for your muse or a way through a dry spell, I offer you the same advice Danielle gave me: Read this book! —Stephanie
The Girls’ Guide to Rocking: How to Start a Band, Book Gigs, and Get Rolling to Rock Stardom
If you have ever dreamed of being a rock goddess, this book, by Rookie’s very own music editor, is a good place to start. It chapters cover everything you need to know about starting a band: how to find the right instrument for you, write songs, conduct band practice, book and play gigs, put on your own shows, deal with hecklers, record albums, and more. The vibe is encouraging and witty (like Jessica), and never loses sight of the fact that music should be fun (like Jessica). —Bianca
The Feminine Mystique
1963, W.W. Norton and Co.
This book, published in the early ’60s by the Smith College graduate Betty Friedan, is an absolute POWERHOUSE because it kick-started the second-wave feminism of the ’60s and ’70s and it continues to underscore the need for feminism today. Friedan interviewed women across the U.S. and discovered that a disproportionate number of housewives expressed deep discontent and disappointment with the hand that life had dealt them. Like many books of its time (and today, unfortunately), The Feminine Mystique largely neglects the perspectives of women of color and working-class women, but even with that its serious and disappointing shortcomings, it still has the power to wake me up and compel me into action. —Lucy
Women, Race & Class
Angela Y. Davis
1981, The Women’s Press
In this book, the revolutionary black scholar and activist Angela Davis dismantles the mainstream (aka whitewashed) history of feminism in the United States. Instead of starting with the women’s suffrage movement (as most histories of feminist resistance do), Davis begins with slavery and its effects on black women. Sadly, little has changed since Women, Race & Class was published in 1981: To take just one example, black and Latina women remain the lowest paid of all workers in the U.S. today. Davis lays out the ways race affects women’s lives in lots of areas (including reproductive health, poverty, and education) and makes a strong case for intersectional feminism. A straightforward and necessary primer for any aspiring feminist to digest. —Suzy X.
The message that sticks with me after reading #GIRLBOSS is this: You can accomplish great things with hard work. Sophia Amoruso, the founder and CEO of the online clothing retailer Nasty Gal, is like a personal work/life coach. Before she became the kickass exec that she is today, Amoruso worked a string of menial jobs—at Subway, a record store, photo lab, and a dry cleaner. When she was 22, she decided to start a small eBay store to sell vintage clothes. That project became a multimillion-dollar company with a cult following. Amoruso has picked up a lot of valuable insight along the way, and she shares it all in this book. Some of my favorite bits of wisdom: “Life is short. Don’t be lazy.” “Money looks better in the bank than on your feet.” “The only thing I smoke is my competition.” She makes me believe that I can be a #BOSS, too. —Bianca
Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York
When I first read, in this history of New York’s Lower East Side tenements, about the ragpickers who pulled items out of the trash, fixed them up, and sold them on the street, I didn’t think that kind of work existed anymore. But then, on my walks around New York, I realized that there are all kinds of modern ragpickers: I have bought so much of my jewelry, books, furniture, clothing, and other life-type accoutrements from people with blankets or tables set up on the sidewalk, without giving much thought to the history of their trade. That speaks to everything that is great about Low Life: It helps me recontextualize and understand the city around me in all kinds of unexpected ways. Added bonus: Luc Sante is a gifted and moving prose writer. Though this book is authoritative and detailed, it can feel like a love poem. Sante’s words made me fall in love with not only New York (for the millionth time—HERB ALERT, I ADORE WHERE I LIVE, HAS ANYONE EVER TOLD YOU THA BIG APPLE IS A COOL PLACE TO BE?), but for the rest of his work, too. This book will make you want to exhaustively explore both. —Amy Rose
Skin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature
This is a stellar collection of autobiographical essays and cultural criticism by the author of Bastard Out of Carolina, one of my favorite books of all-time. Skin is about identity and the work involved in discovering one’s own. Allison talks about growing up in a poor family in South Carolina, learning about her sexuality by masturbating to science-fiction books, and the challenges of discussing sex and class with people (even other feminists, many of whom won’t acknowledge their privilege). If I could give the world a required reading list, this book would be on it. It reminds us that we all need to work on being alert to one another’s experiences. —Stephanie
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?
1994, Vintage Contemporaries
No matter what summer job you just suffered through, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? will appeal to your inner theme-park ticket-taker. Berie works at Storyland all summer with her best friend, Sils. But while Berie runs the cash register, Sils gets to play the park’s Cinderella. Lorrie Moore tells this story from the perspective of the older, if not wiser, Berie, looking back on her teen years. The story has dark moments, but my favorite parts are when we get to hang with Berie and Sils at Storyland and see their friendship, and Berie’s loyalty to Sils, in action. —Monika ♦