Water Cooler Book Club: 14 Books About Life in a Cubicle
The office can be a strange place, from office politics to meetings that could have just been an e-mail to water-cooler gossip to conflicts over who ate whose yogurt in the communal fridge. It’s no wonder that shows like “The Office” and comic strips like “Dilbert” are so popular as a humorous outlet for office dwellers, reflecting the camaraderie as well as the drudgery of workplace life.
For those of us who spend a large portion of our lives behind cubicle walls, here are some fictional offices to make us feel better about our real ones, parodies to make us laugh about the daily workplace grind, and guides that provide real-life tips to survive and thrive in the office.
1Break in Case of Emergency
In this irreverent and deeply moving comedy about fighting for one’s sanity in a toxic workplace, Jen takes a job at a feminist nonprofit where the ostensible aim is to empower women, but instead staffers spend all their time ruthlessly undermining one another and stroking the ego of their larger-than-life celebrity philanthropist boss.
As editor in chief of “Glossy” magazine, Imogen Tate is queen of the fashion world… until Eve, her conniving twentysomething former assistant, returns from business school with plans to knock Imogen off her pedestal, take over her job, and relaunch “Glossy” as an app. Now Imogen will do anything to reclaim her kingdom—even if it means channeling her inner millennial.
3Works Well with Others
When Ross McCammon landed his dream job at Esquire magazine in New York, he had to learn how to navigate the workplace while feeling ill-equipped at succeeding in his new career. This humorous and perceptive guide to the workplace based on his experiences provides advice on everything from firm handshakes to small talk in elevators.
Isabelle, a Wall Street executive, seems to have it all, but her work environment resembles a frat party and her family life is equally complicated. But then women in her office who have been sexually harassed recruit Belle into a secret “glass ceiling club” whose goal is to change banking culture and get equal pay.
When Mae is hired by the Circle, she feels privileged to work for the world’s most powerful internet company. She’s dazzled by the company’s incredible perks and facilities even as life beyond the campus grows distant. What begins as the story of one woman’s ambition soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, privacy, and the limits of human knowledge.
Tina is a 33-year-old executive assistant and after years as a bartender pouring drinks from bottles that cost more than her rent, a technical error with an expense report presents her with the opportunity to pay off all of her student loans. As Tina pursues her morally questionable plan, other assistants with crushing debt want in, spawning a movement that has implications far beyond what anyone anticipated.
7Feminist Fight Club
Part manual, part manifesto, this is a hilarious yet incisive guide to navigating subtle sexism at work, providing real-life career advice and humorous reinforcement for a new generation of professional women. Hard-hitting and entertaining, FEMINIST FIGHT CLUB blends personal stories with research, statistics, and expert advice.
8The Fireside Grown-Up Guide to the Meeting
Meetings are important because they give everyone a chance to talk about work, which is easier than actually doing it. This parody guide introduces the colorful characters around the boardroom table, from those who have nothing to say but must say something anyway to those too busy putting their butt on the photocopier to attend the meeting in the first place.
9100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings
You know those subtle tricks your coworkers are all guilty of? The constant nodding, pretend concentration, useless rhetorical questions? These tricks make them seem like they know what they’re doing when in fact they have no clue. With this sly satirical guide, you too can appear engaged and productive in boring meetings.
10My Salinger Year
As young woman, Joanna Rakoff worked as the assistant to the literary agent for J. D. Salinger and was tasked with processing Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. Impulsively, she stopped sending the agency’s form response to the heart-wrenching letters and began writing back, to humorous and moving results.
11In the Company of Women
Chock-full of practical, inspirational advice for those looking to forge their own paths, these profiles of over 100 influential and creative women detail the keys to success, highlight the importance of everyday rituals, and dispense advice for the next generation of women entrepreneurs and makers.
12The Pale King
David Foster Wallace’s final novel, THE PALE KING, was unfinished when he died and still many argue it is his finest work. Set in an IRS office in Peoria, THE PALE KING takes on the biggest questions—the meaning of life, the value of work, the way we live. It is at once philosophical, provocative, and terribly funny.
13The Devil Wears Prada
Andrea Sachs got the job “a million girls would die for”: assistant to the editor of “Runway” magazine. Now, she puts up with being treated poorly every day because a recommendation from her boss would land her a job at any magazine. But as things escalate, Andrea has to decide whether or not the job is worth the price.
14Then We Came to the End
Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency in this debut novel is family at its strangest and best, coping with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks. This is a funny and keenly observed story about survival in life’s strangest environment.