Minding the Store: Great Literature About Business

More than we sleep, play, or make love, we work. Yet despite — or perhaps because of — this dominant daily grind, much of our literature is biased toward other pursuits. Nonetheless, there exists a substantial body of fiction concerned with labor and craft, selling and acquiring, professional zest and despair. Famed sociologist and psychiatrist Robert Coles and co-editor Albert Lafarge have collected short works of fiction and nonfiction in an anthology that admirably captures this overlooked literary subject in an entertaining and thought-provoking fashion. The famous bards of the marketplace — John O’Hara, John Cheever, John Updike among them — are all represented with well-considered, un-stale selections, while lesser-known authors such as Jean Thompson provide equally exceptional offerings. The selection, strong as it is, will provoke readers to offer counterweight items, in particular anti-work voices such as Jack Kerouac’s. The purely American focus is limiting, and a couple of poets defined famously by their day jobs — T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens — surely must have had something to bring to the table. The anthology as a whole neither fully condemns nor completely endorses our preoccupation with work and its costs and rewards, but does see the subject as an ineluctable constant. No Wordsworths, lamenting how with “getting and spending we lay waste our powers,” need apply.