Required Summer Reading for Recent (Unemployed) Graduates

Published: Jun 27, 2012

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If you find yourself with a newly printed diploma, without a job, and with some extra time on your hands, here are five books (some nonfiction, some fiction) which will entertain, inform, and inspire:

Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II, by J. M. Coetzee
You might be surprised to learn that the South African Nobel Prize-Winning author J. M. Coetzee was once an unemployed graduate living in London with few job prospects. Or that the young Coetzee's first proper job was as a programmer for IBM in a town outside of London. I certainly was. I was also quite moved by this memoir, a portrait of a young twenty-something with high hopes thrown into the so-called harsh reality of the working world. Read (and watch in your imagination) as Coetzee navigates through grey days, failed relationships, and a job with the company that invented the personal computer.

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, by Michael Lewis
Not as large of a deal (on the best-seller list) as Lewis's The Big Short but equally as important to understanding why the heck you don't have a job and you are instead trying to figure out how many couches you can surf on before having to get your own flat, Boomerang takes you to Iceland and Greece, Ireland and Germany, and explains what went wrong in Europe (which is now having a crippling effect on the world economy). Although reading Lewis's stories of folly, greed, and corruption may not bring you much solace during this time of unemployment, it will help you to understand (at least in part) some of those Times and Journal articles about the euro zone crisis that seem to be written in Greek. And hey, who knows, maybe you'll get a chance to talk about said crisis in an upcoming interview and when you speak intelligently about it you might just find yourself (for better or for worse) off of the unemployment line.

Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day Long and How They Feel About What They Do, by Studs Terkel
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Terkel takes you inside the hearts, minds, and day to day grinds of nearly every type of professional imaginable: actor, poet, athlete, musician, banker, policeman, fireman, stockbroker, film critic, dentist, doctor, drug dealer, prostitute, president of a conglomerate, lawyer, factory owner, farmer, interstate truck driver, teacher, and many many more. Working consists entirely of first-person accounts by American workers interviewed by Terkel, who also wrote many other books, including Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression and The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream. Working is a compelling piece of oral history which you can dive in and out of at random, and reading even a small portion of it might give you a strong sense of what line of business you'd like to make your life's work. Or, at the very least, it will give you a chance to peep inside the working worlds (some of which are dreams, others nightmares) of hundreds of your fellow Americans.

The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise, by Georges Perec
This short novel by the French experimental writer Georges Perec is not a step by step how to manual for the uncreative thinker who desires to earn more money per year than he or she does now but rather a trip into the mind of one anxious soul attempting to determine the best manner in which to ask his boss for a raise while he runs into obstacle after obstacle which many times is indeed his own brain and I should add that this book has no punctation and is rather comic in a dark way and despite its humor does give quite a clear picture of a big modern corporation not to mention the often fearful hearts and twisted minds of its employees.

Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris
A novel to be cherished by the corporate climber as well as the corporate hater, Then We Came to the End is a heartbreaking, hilarious page turner that is akin to ingesting a literary version of the television series "The Office" (at times it has more in common with the British series, at others the American). Although the story takes place within the confines of a modern day ad agency in Chicago, I assure you that what happens behind closed doors in advertising in the Windy City is happening behind closed doors everywhere in corporate America, from the high-tech companies and entertainment outfits on the West Coast to the Wall Street banks and law firms on the East Coast, and at every other type of coporation in every city in between. Indeed, Then We Came to the End will prepare you for the office politics that may soon await you in the corporate world. Or, it just might turn you off to the corporation so much that you'll be inspired to get up and run from the beach right now to start your own business.

Have any other recommendations for young graduates down on their luck? If so, let us know.

Read More:
The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise
No One Writes (Fiction) to the Colonel or About Wall Street
The Pale King Cometh: Posthumous Novel By David Foster Wallace Following the Lives of IRS Accountants Now Available For Purchase (Online)



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No One Writes (Fiction) to the Colonel or About Wall Street

A recent Harvard Business Review article notes that the new Richard Ford-edited Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar: Stories of Work* conspicuously lacks any tales focused on business-related professions, and instead mostly includes stories about jobs such as writer, editor, and professor (of literature, presumably).

Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar Stories of WorkAccording to HBR, the reasons for this, and why most modern fiction doesn't commonly cover the corporate professions, including those in finance, are these: (1) most fiction writers don't work real jobs, and they certainly don't work on Wall Street, or in a big corporation, and thus they have little to no idea what really goes on inside the corporate world; (2) even if they sort of understand what goes on, most fiction writers find corporate jobs too difficult to explain in an interesting, lively manner; and (3) life inside a big corporation is boring as hell so why write about it?

HBR also notes that, to hurdle these reasons, it takes a writer as skilled as David Foster Wallace -- who, in his posthumous novel The Pale King, took all three head on and demolished them by (1) taking classes in and performing endless research about tax preparation as well as thoroughly investigating and imagining what it's like to work at the IRS in a sleepy Midwestern outpost; (2) miraculously transforming into poetry the mere mention of "1040s" and "Forms 2440 and 2441"; and (3) documenting the seemingly-mundane to such an extent that it becomes a thing of beauty.