As a newspaper reporter I learned that two subjects might open the mouths and memories of recalcitrant interviewees – their families and work. People love talking about what they do – bragging and complaining — especially when they’re good at it and enjoy the work. Work is central to most of our lives.
…and wonders why there is such an “absence of work” in contemporary literature. He cites two theories: Alain de Botton’s view that “technology has alienated most of us, including writers and other artists, from the means of production,” and Frank Wilson’s assertion that “What this really is about is the extent to which art has become divorced from life as it actually lived by most people.”
A couple of years ago, I put up this post, which asked readers to come up with examples of fiction and memoirs which deal substantially with business and which are of a high literary quality. The Anecdotal Evidence post prompts me to reopen the question, while broading the scope from “business” to “work” of any kind.
My suggestions include:
A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe (novel)
Nice Work, by David Lodge (novel)
Father, Son, & Co, by Tom Watson Jr. (memoir by the long-time CEO of IBM–unlike most business autobiographies, there is a lot of emotion in this book)
On the Rails, by Linda Niemann (memoir by a PhD in English who took a ob with the Southern Pacific Railroad–has been compared to Meville’s work. My review here)
Speaking of Melville… his White Jacket is somewhere between a memoir and a novel–it is based on the author’s experiences as a crewman on an American sailing warship
Landscape with Machines, by L T C Holt (memoir about life in the Welsh border area and work in heavy industry)
Also see this recent post by OnParkStreet, which sparked considerable discussion.