In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?
Work Won’t Love You Back by Sarah Jaffe
The COVID-19 pandemic has opened up conversations about labor conditions across the American economic spectrum, from hourly employees opting out of low-paying, physically punishing restaurant jobs to salaried staff members realizing that they’re not working from home—they’re living at work. What an opportune time, then, for labor reporter Sarah Jaffe’s Work Won’t Love You Back, which was released by Bold Type back in January. Jaffe’s mission is to break down the late-capitalist ethos of “doing what you love,” a concept that she argues sets people up for overwork and exploitation rather than true pleasure in one’s daily activities. This critique applies to the insidious 18/6 schedule of “hustle culture,” as well as giant corporations pressuring employees to accept indignity after indignity under the guise of “family.” But Jaffe’s analysis goes further, dividing 10 types of work, from housekeeping to professional sports, into two broad categories. First are “caring professions” like teaching and retail work that are supposed to come naturally to women, and therefore aren’t considered worthy of a high salary. Second come “labors of love” like art and computer programming, traditional realms of the solitary male “genius” that are framed as more of a spiritual calling than an economic necessity. (The problems with both types of work are, of course, exacerbated by race, as Jaffe details in the chapter about immigrant domestic labor.) Jaffe lays the blame for both traps on the neoliberal policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, advocating for a return to early-20th-century modes of labor organizing to unite workers of all types in order to better their lives. [Katie Rife]
Press Reset: Ruin And Recovery In The Video Game Industry by Jason Schreier
In March of 2013, Boston-based game studio Irrational Games released Bioshock: Infinite, the third entry in its massively successful series of narrative-based shooters. Infinite was a huge critical and commercial hit, heralded by many as game of the year, but less than a year later, almost every single person who worked on it was out of work, and their studio was in ruins. That story, and many others like it, serves as the spine of Jason Schreier’s Press Reset (May 11, Grand Central), a book-length autopsy on how and why video game studios die. As with his other reporting—at Bloomberg News; in his previous book, Blood, Sweat, And Pixels; and for many years at our sister publication Kotaku—Schreier focuses on the human costs of these high-profile failures. The central paradox is simple to grasp: Why, in one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative industries on the planet, does every studio veteran have at least one story of their entire professional life suddenly disappearing out from under them?
Meticulously researched and briskly presented, Press Reset doesn’t skimp on the trainwreck appeal of industry horror stories. Recurring villains run the gamut from self-styled auteurs and geniuses—Bioshock’s Ken Levine is introduced as speaking “like a cross between a college professor and the Joker”—to too-ambitious dreamers like baseball’s Curt Schilling (whose disastrous attempts to defeat World Of Warcraft at its own game ended up making him a life-long enemy of the state of Rhode Island), to the faceless money people, for whom anything less than exponential growth is somehow a disastrous failure. It’s not all doom and bankruptcy, though. Schreier’s clear interest in the root causes of these systemic issues stops Press Reset from being purely an exercise in corporate nihilism. Thoughtful meditations on unionization and the benefits of remote work may not pack the same punch as the industry nightmares that make up the bulk of the book, but they do offer a glimmer of hope for anybody hoping to see this billion-dollar people-shredder undergo some measure of meaningful reform. [William Hughes]
You’re Leaving When? Adventures In Downward Mobility by Annabelle Gurwitch
Even pre-pandemic, gen-Xers and millennials were arriving at the unsatisfying conclusion that they might not “have it all” by the time they reached or began to exit middle age. This realization is mapped out in a painful but amusing manner in Annabelle Gurwitch’s new book, You’re Leaving When? Adventures In Downward Mobility (March 2, Counterpoint). Gurwitch was a familiar face in the ’90s as the witty co-host of Dinner & A Movie, then she shifted the focus of her career from performing to writing. Her latest book was inspired by her divorce; the death of her parents; and her only child, Ezra, entering rehab. “I’m 55. Is there anyone who’s thrilled about starting a new chapter of life at my age? I thought I’d be coasting by now. When does the coasting begin?” Gurwitch tries to cling to the house she once shared with her husband, renting a room to a messy, lazy Frenchman who she ultimately kicks out for showing up to coffee in a shortie robe: “It was a thigh too far.” In a truly delightful chapter, she skewers the unrealistic onscreen depictions of women at her stage in life, usually involving what she calls “the man cure” and Nancy Meyers’ trademark cream-colored couches that are “deliciously overstuffed, probably with hundred-dollar bills.” There’s a valuable universality throughout Gurwitch’s work, thanks to her sharp sense of humor and complete lack of shame, resulting in a hilarious chapter on later-in-life dating entitled “Lubepocolypse Now!” That white-picket fence you might have imagined may be as far away as ever, but reading Adventures In Downward Mobility, you can take some solace that you are (far from) alone in your plight, and if you’re lucky you can laugh about it as well. [Gwen Ihnat]