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Thursday, March 20, 2008


Recently I've been trying to get back into reading again. Or reading books, anyway -- I've always read lots, but for the last 10 years or so most of it has been on the internet. Me and the internet get along really well, and I do end up reading plenty of interesting stuff, but hardly anything I read takes more than a few minutes to digest; it lacks that level of immersion that a book provides. Internet bits and pieces are a big sloppy mess, while in a book, someone has kindly gone through the trouble of putting things together in a nice coherent package. It also seems like my internet browsing has taken on more TV-like characteristics recently due to the proliferation of web video (centrifugal hamsters! creepy walking DARPA robot!). A more practical concern is that I tend to stay up later than I intend to reading stuff on the internet, but if I end the night reading a book, I can do that lying in bed, which will lead me to go directly to sleep once I get a little drowsy. (Diabolical, I know.)

Having the branch library a few blocks away from home and the central library a few blocks from work makes it much easier to follow through on my reading intentions. Last week I picked up And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris because it was brightly colored and I had heard people talk about it. I'm already done with it because I ended up being home sick for a couple days, and I really enjoyed it. It's set in an ad agency at the end of the 90s boom as people are getting laid off, and it does a good job mining the inanity of office culture. It's also written in the third person plural, but this actually works, because it's an effective device for making you feel like you're part of that slightly depersonalizing office environment.

Anyway, finally getting to why I sat down to write this blog post: The book reminds me of The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, which became my favorite book after Amanda lent me a copy this summer. It's not really very similar -- it's basically one guy's interior monologue as he goes through part of his workday -- but it's stunningly done and I recommend its enthusiasm for the minutiae of life as an excellent antidote to the more pathetic tendencies that Ferris writes about, if you happen to have been reading And Then We Came to the End.


doug said...

I just finished _Then We Came to the End_, and I agree that it's brilliant. I read some interviews with Joshua Ferris before I read the book, and he'd said multiple times that the voice is "the corporate 'we.' " But I don't think it is -- it's the co-worker 'we,' the gossipy 'we,' the perspective of a peer, not of the corporation itself. It's a lot richer this way (I think sustained storytelling would be tough in true corporate-speak), and this particular voice is what makes the ending so great.

One other quick thought: this novel captures the sense of place of corporate life far better than anything else I've encountered.

teague said...

I agree with you about the "we," Doug. That's what I was trying to say, but I think you described it better.

I do think it captures corporate culture well, though that's an odd thing for me to say since I've never worked in that setting (my only two "real jobs" having been in a union and the government). Also, various aspects of the culture and work style at my current job keep it from being too much like that...