Sunday, November 30, 2008

Everything is illuminated

From Moonlight Ambulette:

So now that I remembered how to read I've been picking up all the many half-read books littering my apartment, and have happily re-delved into Personal Days, Ed Park's very funny novel about a group of people who work in an office at a time of economic upheaval and rampant layoffs. It just goes to show you what a difference it makes to be reading the right book at the right time -- even just a few weeks ago I'm sure the employees' skittishness about layoffs wouldn't have struck so chillingly close to home, but now layoffs (and rumored magazine shut-downs) are sort of the theme of the day at the media company where I work.

And then the most amazing thing happened. One day I read this paragraph: "Week after week, you form these intense bonds without quite realizing it. All that time together adds up: muttering at the fax machine, making coffee runs. The elevator rides. The bitching about the speed of the elevator. The endlessly reprised joke, as it hits every floor: Making local stops." Funny, I thought, and so true about the unexpected bonds. But no one makes that elevator joke where I work, bub! I mean, no one really makes small talk or even looks each other in the elevators in my building.

And guess what happened the next day at work. Two security guards in the elevator, going up, with practically every floor's button illuminated. One turned to the other and before he even said it I knew what he was going to say. Making local stops.

This book must be magic!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Recession reading

To this list...

...add Personal Days!

The New Yorker writes:

This comic and creepy début novel takes place in a Manhattan office depopulated by "the Firings," where one can "wander vast tracts of lunar workscape before seeing a window." The downsized staff huddle like the crew of a doomed spaceship, picked off one by one by an invisible predator. Crippled by computer crashes (one worker suggests that the machines are "trying to tell us about the limits of the human"), the survivors eddy in a spiritual inertia; when one of them is banished to "Siberia"—a lone desk on another floor—no one can muster the energy even to reply to her increasingly anguished e-mails, until, one day, she is simply no longer there. Park transforms the banal into the eerie, rendering ominous the familiar request "Does anyone want anything from the outside world?"

The PD blog reminds you, it's...

—An affordable $13.—

after you read the book, send the two names that are anagrams of each other to

and get a
free whimsical jpeg!

Gift idea

Personal Days is one of Book Nerd's favorite books of 2008!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Calling Tal Champers!

The most fun, though, are the cameos, from an violent Mickey Spillane to the wryly comic young writers Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block, who serve as a sort of pulp Bert and Ernie--or, more accurately, Ernie and Ernie.
I've Been Reading Lately

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No Christmas party?

"Office culture has sucked more than usual these days...": Gawker mentions Personal Days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reach the beach

New from City of Work:

Theodore Roethke's "Dolor"

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight...

Read the whole poem here, and learn more about Rylan Steele, who took this photograph:

Photo: Office, 2008 by HHS entrant Rylan Steele

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hold that thought

"You Secure In Your Job?"

Check out three Quicktime poems by William Poundstone.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


How well will Personal Days date?

I spent a large part of today in front of a microfilm reader in the New York County Clerk office on Chambers Street, looking at immigration records from the turn of the century. How many people today ever use microfilm? Most technologies pass into obsolescence, but others are completely forgotten. After people stop using email, it may not take many more decades before people forget what email was - before they forget that it was ever an innovation in the real world. That is my secret hope for Personal Days - that someday in the future one of its readers will come across a passage about a QWERTY keyboard or cd drives and see it not as a laughably retro reference, but as the techno-babble of some forgotten era. On that day the novel will pass from very good period fiction to very good science fiction.

Some Reservations

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not for us

We might think of Kafka’s response to his friend Max Brod’s question about hope and whether there was any outside the world as we know it. ‘Plenty of hope,’ Kafka said. ‘But not for us.’

Where did Kafka learn to think like this? A case could be made that he found his training not in his intricate psyche or in his horrified commitment to writing – ‘the service of the Devil’, he called it – but in his day job at the Prague Institute for Workmen’s Accident Insurance.

—Michael Wood on Kafka's office writings, London Review of Books

(From Jenny)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Words of the year—office edition

The New Oxford American Dictionary's "Word of the Year" finalists include moofer (for "mobile out of office worker") and topless meeting (not what you think).

Time for a staycation!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The chills

Portico on Personal Days:

[I]ntensely plotted, [with] a very satisfying surprise ending...a finely-modulated progression of narrative voices...It's as though working at this unnamed company, engaged in its unspecified business, they are living through a slow-motion disaster, an earthquake in freeze-frame, that will not end until they walk out of the funky lower-Manhattan office building for the last time — assuming that blasting in the neighborhood doesn't cause it to topple. The unaffectionate intimacy with which these young people cohabit adjacent cubicles gives the book a snarkily cheerful surface beneath which flow unpredictably chilly currents.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The answer is always yes

Do you want to maximize your productivity, push your career to the next level, and maintain a positive outlook at work? Artist and office worker Michael Lewy has a series of helpful charts for you. Lewy, who has an administrative job at MIT, spent the past year engaged in a surreal act of worldbuilding that resulted in City of Work, a collection of slide presentations, ad campaigns, and educational films that reveal the dark side of "getting things done." —i09

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mouth almighty

Ten years later my hair began to turn black and my teeth gradually returned to my mouth. I was deprived of my pension and had to sit at the office doing my work from the end right to the beginning. My employers were very kind to me, but after twenty-five years they ceased to know me and engaged me on trial at fifteen pounds a month. So there I stood, back to front of course, without money and without a job, but with a wife who grew prettier and loved me more every day.

—From Frigyes Karinthy's "The Moral," in Soliloquies in the Bath (read all of it at A Journey Round My Skull)