So, you’ve left the comfy confines of college only to find yourself a newly minted suit-wearer in a carpeted, cubicled, windowless box. Welcome to the working world! You spent the last four years at a glorious gothic campus surrounded by passionate professors and stimulating friends, but now you’re wondering if it was all a sham — was all that work just to prepare you for the privilege of spending 10 hours a day in a grey coffin? And who are these people by whom you’re now surrounded, anyway? Why are they so weird?
Here’s the thing: It will definitely seem like all hope is lost for an uncomfortable stretch at your first real job. You will wonder why you didn’t listen to your mother and go to law school. You will gain five pounds from boredom-eating. You will consider dying your hair pink “just to show them.”
Don’t waste your time on any of that. Instead, pay attention. It doesn’t seem like it at first, but this is the moment your athro professor was preparing you for — the chance to “go native” in an emotional petri-dishes filled with weird, awkward people doing hilarious things! You’ll need to know what you’re looking for, but that’s where fiction can help you out. Instead of getting mad, depressed, and/or flustered, find the funny in office life with help from these titles.
Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris
Between the harsh deadlines, late hours, and lack of natural sunlight, office life can give even the most disorderly bunch a pack mentality. You and your officemates will become a kind of family, flawed but lovable in your own way, and this is the dynamic that Joshua Ferris so expertly describes in his first novel. Written in first person plural, it’s an intimate bird’s-eye-view (somehow NOT an oxymoron) of office society filled with observations about common work personalities, how information travels among co-workers, and the realities of office friendship. Every character in this massive gossip column is lovable, absurd, and totally relatable, but more importantly this book probably has more information about how work the office from a social angle than any serious guide you’ll find on the market. Clue: knowing the dirt doesn’t hurt.
Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Wiesberger
You might as well be prepared for the fact that your first job will be filled with indignities, but while you’re spilling coffee on your boss’ dry-cleaning for the first time and cursing your life, just remember that in five years you’ll be in a position to laugh about somebody else doing the same thing. Depending on your field, Miranda Priestly’s treatment of her assistant Andrea Sachs may seem totally overblown or laughably lightweight, but it’s worth finding a way to see the humor in these inevitable, klutzy, stressful moments, whichever end of the totem pole you’re on.
The Circle by Dave Eggers
Do you find yourself talking about your job at unusual times? Using obscure jargon that your friends definitely don’t understand? Compulsively checking your work email for no good reason? You might be work-obsessed. Your friends kindly ask that you please stop with that.
One of the uniquely American dangers of office life is the compulsion many people feel to delve in a little too far. We’re a workaholic culture operating within a cutthroat economy — it’s easy to lose perspective. Find out just how wrong it can all go care of your luddite grandpa Dave. Eggers is evidently less-than-jazzed about the Google revolution and he comes off as a little grumpy here, but The Circle is a great lesson in what it means to be too team-spirited. Your job may be great or it may be awful, but either way it’s good to remember that your life is comprised of many things and some of those things happen outside of the cubicle. Let protag Mae Holland be your guide to what not to do.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Many workplaces ban interoffice romances, but the truth of the matter is that many people meet their mates at work because the office is where we all spend most of our time. With this saccharine but enjoyable novel, Rainbow Rowell gives us all hope that the love of our lives might be at the other end of that faceless email to the IT. She also gives us the fear that the “man” is watching us at all times but... whatever. Love.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
It’s hard to picture it sometimes, but everybody you currently work with exists outside of the office too... even the weird guy in accounting who has not a single notable personality trait aside from his mysteriously mismatched socks. Rachman’s novel is really more a collection of loosely related short stories and does a great job of examining the place of each person within an office setting before pulling us into their real lives. It’s a worthwhile reminder that we’re all people, even those of us that don’t find a way to be all that human between 9 and 5.
What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] by Zoe Heller
Not all workplaces are created equal. Your first gig might involve you being surrounded by a bunch of hip twentysomethings, but it might also involve sitting in an office with people totally unlike yourself, some of whom you’ll need to befriend to pass the time. What Was She Thinking? was adapted into a great film about the friendship between a younger and older teacher that’s worth seeing for all the dramz, but the book does a far superior job than the film of delving into what it means to befriend then destroy an unlikely colleague-friend. It’s ultimately one long musing about workplace friendship and how our work friends fit into our larger lives. A fascinating read and worthwhile workplace intel to boot!
Personal Days by Ed Park
Park’s novel is very similar to Then We Came To the End in it’s use of first person plural and supremely gossip-y focus, but this stab at examining the office from an anthropological point of view is a little more satire-driven. It’s an interesting and hilarious exploration of how isolated and interdependent office people can become and might even make you fall in love with your wacky officemates a little. It you enjoyed Ferris’ novel but thought I wish I were rolling around on the floor in convulsions of laughter more, this book is for you.
Company by Max Barry
Sometimes the office conspiracy you can’t prove but secretly think might be happening is totally real. Enter the creepy world of Max Barry, where the company gives you a narrow job and doesn’t tell you much else about what they do. It’s exaggerated but also unsettlingly easy to relate to, especially for those of us working at big companies with lots of departments. At least in reading Company you learn that your company’s evilness isn’t even that original. That’s comforting, right? Right?
Top Girls by Caryl Churchill
There are plenty of instances in which this examination of what it means to be female and ambitious can feel dated, but here’s the thing: a lot of people in your office will feel dated as well. They will think like people used to think back when they were young and strapping and that era might have been strikingly similar to 1982, the year this play was written. Top Girls can feel pessimistic and it’s not worth harping on the ultimate message (which questions whether women can balance careers and lives) but it offers insights into many challenges women still face in the workplace today.