Melissa Maerz recommends 6 books by and about slackers
Melissa Maerz is the author of Alright, Alright, Alright, a new oral history of the 1993 cult-classic comedy film Dazed and Confused. Below, the former Spin, Rolling Stone, and New York Magazine editor recommends six books by and about slackers.
Slacker by Richard Linklater (1992).
Linklater didn't invent the word "slacker," but he did create the archetype. His 1991 film Slacker is a very funny portrait of overeducated, underemployed misfits who wander around Austin spouting conspiracy theories about JFK and the Smurfs. Watching it, I often wondered where Linklater found these guys. This tie-in book has answers, and they're fascinating.
The Complete Eightball by Daniel Clowes (2015).
When I first read Eightball, it was a revelation: Wait, comics can be about disaffected weirdos like me? This collection spans Clowes' 1989–1997 work, which was the origin of many great things: Ghost World, Art School Confidential, and a whole generation of underground comics.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (2019).
Slacking isn't necessarily about a lack of ambition. Sometimes it's a different kind of ambition: the kind you have when you're young and broke but don't want to work a job you're intellectually overqualified for. This compassionate novel, about a young black woman who babysits for a wealthy white woman, captures that struggle.
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville (1853).
Melville describes Bartleby as a man "who obstinately refuses to go on doing the sort of writing demanded of him." That was Melville, too. Frustrated that Moby-Dick had flopped, he grew tired of trying to make money by appealing to a general audience. So he wrote this brilliantly weird story about the fine line between refusing to work on principle and refusing to do anything at all.
Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer (1997).
"My greatest urge in life is to do nothing," writes Dyer in this memoir about the writer's block he experienced while working on a book about D.H. Lawrence. Funny how, by writing about his attempts to avoid writing, he ended up crafting a hilarious book.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (2018).
An emotionally detached New Yorker swallows a truckload of pharmaceuticals and tries to sleep her way through a year. Like American Psycho, this novel is a disturbing portrait of privilege. I'm still not sure if I love it or hate it, but I cannot stop thinking about it, which is the biggest endorsement I can give any book.
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