It's never too late to celebrate Labor Day. I often read about work during my time off, which may seem counterintuitive, but work is... complicated. Consider Philip Levine's poem "What Work Is." Here are a few of my recent favorites.
In the NYRB Classics edition of The Farm in the Green Mountains, Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer chronicles a critical period in her life when she and her husband, playwright Carl Zuckmayer, fled Berlin and the Nazis. They eventually landed in Vermont for a few years of unaccustomed hardscrabble farming. I love her chapters on finding refuge in the Dartmouth College Library: "Here is then the library, my rock, my refuge, my cloister. When I sit in my cell, no goat bleets, no chicken cackles, no pig grunts, no duck quacks, no goose honks, no rooster crows."
Finn Murphy is a hard worker and great storyteller. The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road meshes those qualities seamlessly. "Since most of my job satisfaction comes from the work," he writes, "I don't get too indignant whether I'm treated like a galley slave, a potential threat, an uncomfortable example of the dark side of the labor pool, or a helpmeet and partner. I try to keep things smooth and easygoing."
A couple of years ago, I was recommending Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business by Paul Downs, which offers a fiercely honest behind-the-scenes look at the professional and personal life of an independent furniture designer and manufacturer.
My TBR-soon list includes Danger: Man Working: Writing from the Heart, the Gut and the Poison Ivy Patch by Michael Perry, who has long been one of my favorite writers on work. His advice for aspiring writers "is predicated on formative years spent cleaning my father's calf pens: just keep shoveling until you've got a pile so big, someone has to notice." That's as good a way as any to end a Labor Day piece. --Robert Gray, contributing editor