What to Read At the End of Work

The end of the year always feels like a pause point for me, though for many of us the pause has again been forced as a fifth COVID wave moves over the globe.

The end of THIS year is special, since this seems to be the year that there’s a collective awakening that work isn’t working (ps, it has not been working, for awhile). From the great resignation, to renewed labor organizing, to connecting environmental crises to business’ sustainability pivots, to individual burnout and our collective need for a nap: this isn’t really working, not at all.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely tuned into this dysfunction. And you, like me, may be wondering: what now? Do I get a break? Are we getting UBI yet? And, would I even know what to do, if I had time to regain my sense of center outside of a work imperative?

(or, is that last one just me?)

I always read and reflect at year end — and this year my themes are:

  • Work (and any approach that will help me work less)
  • Daily ways of being that are authentic / present
  • What can history tell us about how we got into this hole (so we can get out)

In leaving NYC, I intended to leave unhealthy work habits behind. No more 60 hour weeks, and this laptop hunch backache has got to go. I don’t have my new ways of being in mind yet, but I do have tools and teachers – right now, in books which are magic. They will help me, I know it. It’s always true. 

My teachers this season are:


image source: Jenny Odell

Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

I bought this book as a spell, hoping it would help me relearn to chill out and regain some of the deep play and wonder I used to meander about experiencing. Jenny’s deep observations, connecting labor precarity, financialized digital connectivity, and creativity are delivered in expansive, sensuous writing, about birds, parks, and sensing. She suggests instead of bowing to the incredible pressure to be snazzy/performative online, instead we try deoptimization of our time, radically resting, and embodying space as you wish, not in order to consume/spend. 

Read her beautiful and epic Medium article that kicked off the book  or get the whole book.


Sarah Jaffe, Work Won’t Love You Back

Sarah breaks history the fuck down using a labor analysis, inviting us to remember that a mere few decades ago, we weren’t expected to identify with work, expect to “do what we love and never work a day”, or act like we enjoy standing around in a room all day servicing strangers. Back in the day work’s social contract was: do it, or be destitute and in misery. Now, we have other forms of incentive machines, like personal brands and smartphones and optimized scheduling and “cool jobs”, making sure we’re always performing (for) work, always available at the best time for our ever growing cadre of client / customers, and emotionally compelled to work. It’s … better, but is it good for us? NO. Is it making us happier? ALSO NO. Is it at least making us more financially stable? MOSTLY ALSO NO. 

Listen to her podcast, Belabored, or get the book.


Finally, Rest in Power bell hooksAll of us who are counter-designers, who work from a place of marginalized experience as a site of knowledge, power, and resistance, owe intellectual debt to hooks. I particularly loved Art on My Mind, but read anything she wrote. No mention of the power of writing would be completed without naming her gift and legacy. Thank you bell, rest in power!