Friday, August 31, 2012

Weekend Reading: Labor Day Edition

cross-posted from Dagblog

What better novel for Labor Day weekend than Joshua Ferris's brilliant debut, And Then We Came to the End? It's truly the Labor-Day read for our time. It's formally masterful in its first-person-plural narration, with a collective officeplace "we" who does the narrating, like this:

 “We thanked each other. It was customary after every exchange. Our thanks were never disingenuous or ironic. We said thanks for getting this done so quickly, thanks for putting in so much effort. We had a meeting and when a meeting was over, we said thank you to the meeting makers for having made the meeting. Very rarely did we say anything negative or derogatory about meetings. We all knew there was a good deal of pointlessness to nearly all the meetings and in fact one meeting out of every three or four was nearly perfectly without gain or purpose but many meetings revealed the one thing that was necessary and so we attended them and afterward we thanked each other.”
But perhaps more impressively it gets into the slowly dying heart of a certain kind of American workplace. If the book seems eerily in tune with our current atmosphere of economic anxiety and depression (and it certainly does to me) just remember that it was published in 2007, a year before the Smaller Depression began.

But not all work is done in offices with computers. In honor of working with one's hands, here's a prose poem by the great Kimberly Johnson: poet, Renaissance scholar and, as Steve Martin used to put it a perrsonaallll friendamine:

As crickets geiger-up for spring, we corral the ram lambs. They stutter and dense against the fence wheezing for the ewes. Down wince, down retch: up one and flip his back to mud, knee to sternum. The banded tail will black to wizen, prune off easy. But marking is all trespass: thumb the soft belly to pop the scrotum out, then lunge and turn the mind away, teeth working, working, to snap back and spit. I try not to taste but I am all mouth, all salt blood and lanolin. I hear their bleatings through my tongue. They call it marking for the tooth-scars on the belly, but when I speak tonight, my words will sputter and decay, and when try to say your name I will pronounce it elegy.
(As a bonus, following the link allows you to hear a recording of Kim reading this poem.)

Happy Labor Day, all!

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