13 books to read when you’re hating your job

Posted by
Scarlett Cayford

According to a 2016 survey, one in four UK workers wish they had a different job, so if you’re silently loathing your current career path, then fear not: you are not alone. You are the 25%.

That said, unless you have a rich benefactor or a nose for buried treasure, you probably have to labour on (for a while at least) so, in lieu of submitting your notice tomorrow and spending the rest of your days on a Bali beach, we’ve selected a few books to provide you with a brief respite – and a reminder that things really could be worse.

And while few people are privileged enough to truly love every aspect of their job, if you sincerely hate yours – even after reading this – please do review your options. We must stress that this list is not intended to make you accepting of genuine employment-induced agony. We do not live in the Republic of Gilead.

  • The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

    So, you hate your job? Groundbreeaking. First on the list, of course, is the based-on-a-true-story tale of the aspiring journalist roped into becoming the flunky-cum-whipping-boy of a high-powered magazine editor.

    The movie is fab, obviously, because Meryl Streep is a goddess, but the book is ruder, cruder and a good bit nastier. Revel in the fashion and the fabulousness, and be glad that you don’t have steaks and furs flung in your face on a daily basis.

    Get it here

  • The Firm by John Grisham

    First of all, consider watching the movie, because Tom Cruise does a series of somersaults during the opening credits and it’s gloriously cheesy.

    Secondly, even if you’re being worked to the bone and/or crying in the bathroom in your current place of employment, at least you’re not facing the possibility of being murdered by your boss – a trial that Mitch McDeere, the all-American poor-boy-done-good faces in what is perhaps Grisham’s juiciest book.

    Rich with cash, spite, drownings, sex scenes and BMWs, this is also the book to read when you’re comparing your paltry salary to your lawyer mates. Nobody ever attempted the murder of a digital activations analyst. Probably.

    Get it here

  • The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

    I don’t know what your job entails. Maybe you have to scrape faecal matter off the back of toilet cisterns, or fill in spreadsheets until your eyeballs numb and bleed – but at least you don’t have to receive boredom survival training.

    That’s the plight of the IRS officers in Illinois, who live a life of tedium and repetition that’s about to get even more tedious and repetitive. If you’re thinking “this sounds like possibly the most boring book in the world”, you’re wrong. That’s For Whom The Bells Tolls.

    This book was unfinished at the time of the author’s death, but you can’t tell – it’s clever, nuanced and bound to make you count (carefully, painstakingly, more than once) your blessings.

    Get it here

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

    There’s barely a Maggie book in print that won’t make you glad for your stale sandwiches and insufficient salary, but her seminal work – imminently coming to your small screen for a big time binge – takes the ‘horrible workplace’ trope to a whole new level.

    As a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, Offred’s responsibilities are myriad, the most important of which is remaining fertile as she is useful to the Commander only as long as her eggs are viable. She remembers the days when she had a daughter, and a husband, but those days are gone. So, go rewrite the work that PowerPoint ’95 just obliterated.

    Get it here

  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

    You’ve probably had a few jobs – office work, paper delivery, sandwich-filler, babysitter. So even if you hate your current job, the chances are that you have something to compare it to that you found just a little bit worse.

    Just in case you don’t, pick up Sweetbitter for an account of what it can be like to be a waitress: the low pay and the long shifts and the rude chefs and the cruel customers and the burns and the blisters and the labour. Read it also for an insight into the drinking and the sex and the drugs.

    Your current employment might not be delightful, but at least you’ve (probably) never accidentally sold an £800 bottle of wine for £35.

    Get it here

  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

    When you’re feeling crappy about your present, it’s always nice to have a reminder that the future could be way, way worse – and there’s nothing like a cleverly penned dystopian fantasy to help you find the good in your current situation.

    It’s pretty much impossible to provide a potted summary of a novel that involves twisted, circular narratives and takes place in present-day England, a Korean superstate, 1850s California and a post-apocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii – but if you are unlikely, in your current job, to be murdered and recycled when you pass usefulness, then this is a good comparative tome. 

    Get it here

  • Personal Days by Ed Parks

    Basically Office Space in book form, this novel takes place in a New York-based book company as the ennui ends and the firings begin. Comic and creepy, it’ll both make you nostalgic for office days (even if you’re still living them) and grateful that one day, it must all end.

    You’ll never be able to hear the phrase “Does anyone want anything from the outside world?” ever again.

    Get it here

  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

    You have to commute 70 minutes to work every day, someone always drinks all of the soy milk (even though they’re not actually lactose intolerant and you are) and you’re pretty sure your boss just arrives, closes the door and naps, but at least your whole function in life isn’t to be a clone, ripe for harvest when organs are required.

    This is called ‘looking on the bright side’.

    Get it here

  • 1984 by George Orwell

    It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 7, but you couldn’t go home because the client hadn’t responded to the brief yet, and there were still several outstanding projects that needed addressing and I don’t care if you have a hot yoga class booked and only had time to eat three bits of sushi from your Itsu box at lunch before you got called into another meeting, you’re staying here until Jess emails back DON’T ASK AGAIN.

    But it’s alright, everything is alright, the struggle is finished. You have won the victory over yourself. You love your job.

    Get it here

  • Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

    A job where all you do is read, and reply to, the many and varied complaints of New Yorkers in the 1930s? That’s enough to drive anyone to drink – which is exactly what happens to Miss Lonelyhearts, a male journalist with a vicious editor and no ability to withstand the terrible letters he has to read.

    Get it here

  • The Brainstorm by Jenny Turner

    Say hello to Lorna. Lorna is you, or someone you know.

    Lorna arrives at her office block in 1990s London one day, to do her job, just like every day. There’s just one problem: she can’t remember what her job is.

    Written by someone who used to pen articles for The Independent, The Brainstorm is philosophical, comical – and reassuring, if you’re the kind of person who sits down to lunch, eats well, then forgets her PIN number when it comes time to pay.

    Get it here

  • The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

    Shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker prize, this is the story of the lives of 13 young men living together in a house in Sheffield, each having fled a life of struggle in India.

    Original and poignant, it’s just the thing to give you a touch of perspective.

    Get it here

  • 50 Jobs Worse Than Yours by Justin Racz

    Just in case this list hasn’t quite hit the sweet spot of your self-pity, try this picture-led depiction of the world’s worst jobs, from telemarketer script writer, through to the bloke who operates the It’s A Small World ride at Disneyland. 

    Get it here


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Scarlett Cayford

Scarlett Cayford is 28 years old and works in digital content production. She has strong feelings about hair dye, bucket lists, Gilmore Girls, all baths and most books

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