Working Strategies: Books to get you thinking about work and fun

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Amy Lindgren

If you’re a reader, then you already know that books come in all stripes and flavors. Whatever issue you’re working through, whatever curiosity has overtaken you, or whatever hour you’re trying to kill, there will be a book out there somewhere to help.

As someone who gobbles up books indiscriminately, I have a lot of random items in my collection. Although I do have an e-reader, somehow the print experience appeals to my tactile nature. Hence, the afore-mentioned collection.

Following are some titles I thought I’d share, each with some connection to a job search or vocational theme — but none of them guides for actually conducting a job search or improving your career. Those can come after the new year, when we all get serious again about being serious.


We’ll start with the fiction, which is always fun. I won’t burden you with extensive descriptions, since that dims some of the joy of discovery. A few of these are old, so you may have to check online for a battered-up copy, but it will be worth it.

• The Burnout, by Sophie Kinsella. Penguin Random House, 2023. Contemporary romance / humor novel about two burned-out professionals who connect up at a ramshackle British resort.

• The Coworker, by Freida McFadden. Hollywood Upstairs Press, 2023. This psychological thriller is set in an office and told partly in emails. This one’s on my shelf, waiting to be read. Hope it’s good…

• The Quitter, by Harvey Pekar; illustrated by Dean Haspiel. Vertigo, 2006. A graphic novel telling the somewhat gritty story of the now-famous artist’s early years and difficult search for his vocation. If you haven’t dived into the late Pekar’s work in the past (and if you like getting an unvarnished life perspective as told in graphic novels), any of his books is sure to be a treat.

• Resume with Monsters, by William Browning Spencer. Borealis 1995. Horror, as happens to an employee of Ralph’s One-Day Resume shop. Bwa-ha-ha-ha. (Winner of an international horror award for Best Novel.)

• Undead and Unemployed, by MaryJanice Davidson. Berkley Sensation, 2004. Vampire Romance (yes, that’s a category!) A reluctant vampire deals with losing her job while handling undead issues. One of 15 in Davidson’s humorous Undead series, set in the Twin Cities.

• Up in the Air, by Betty Riegel. Simon & Schuster, 2013. This one’s an occupational memoir, so it’s not really fiction. But I wanted to keep it close to the next two on the list. In this book, Riegel shares her experiences as a Pan Am stewardess, traveling the world in the iconic airline’s prestigious heyday. It’s a fun nostalgia trip for folks who remember when flying didn’t include a pat-down.

Not to be confused with … Up in the Air, the 2009 movie starring George Clooney about a man whose job entails flying tens of thousands of miles annually to help terminate employees in mass layoffs. I know, that’s awful — but it’s much more entertaining than it sounds.

And the movie was based on, you guessed it, a novel: Up in the Air, by Walter Kern. Doubleday, 2001. Categorized as psychological fiction, this novel by then-literary editor of GQ Magazine came along just as the United States was stumbling through the extensive layoffs of the recession caused by the bursting dot-com bubble.


• Building: A carpenter’s notes on life and the art of good work, by Mark Ellison. Random House, 2023. A carpenter’s meditations on work, creativity and design. Building received a lot of attention this year, with the author giving some really insightful radio interviews.

• Gig: Americans talk about their jobs at the turn of the millennium, co-edited by Minnesota native John Bowe. Three Rivers Press, 2000. An updated concept of Studs Terkel’s famous Working interviews (see below), but with the essays written by the subjects themselves.

• Hidden America: From coal miners to cowboys, an extraordinary exploration of the unseen people who make this country work, by Jeanne Marie Laskas. GP Putnam’s Sons, 2012. Laskas limits herself to only nine occupations, but the stories are well-researched and reported in a lively way, making a highly readable book.

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• Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do, by Studs Terkel, 1974. NY: Pantheon/Random House. Frank and revealing work-bios across dozens of professions, as told to Terkel, an oral historian and broadcaster.

To find more

And if that’s not enough…here’s a librarian-selected grouping of hundreds of fiction and non-fiction titles starring characters with occupations ranging from acrobats to undertakers.

Happy reading!

Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at

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