Recs 8/29/2021: Burnout v. Demoralization

Cheery stuff!

Here I am sitting down to write this newsletter at the time when it’s usually arriving in people’s inboxes because I forgot to do it yesterday (Saturday).

Actually, that’s not true. During the day on Saturday, I periodically told myself that I needed to sit down and write my newsletter, but it just never happened because my brain needed a little break from work. The great thing about being your own boss is the freedom to set your own schedule. The bad thing about being your own boss is that sometimes you don’t know when to stop. Mrs. Biblioracle was out of town much of the previous week which means I don’t have much to do except work, so that’s what I did. On the one hand, awesome, much accomplishment.

On the other, we all have our limits to how much work we an tolerate and still be effective.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at listening when a feeling of burnout creeps in and taking a little break is necessary. The schedule for this newsletter is entirely within my own control, so while I do feel a little angst when I miss my plan (Sunday morning delivery), there’s no real harm done.

I’m lucky that a little burnout is the greatest risk I face because there’s lots of folks who are facing something much worse, something that threatens to fundamentally upend the relationship people have with their labor.

I’m talking not about burnout, but “demoralization.”

Burnout = I believe in my work but I really could use a break.

Demoralization = The conditions under which I’m asked to work are impossible and I can’t do it anymore.

You’ve seen the many articles about the difficulty of hiring in service-industry positions, or people quitting their jobs, rather than returning to in-person work, I’m sure. This is demoralization, as opposed to burnout.

The field I’m most familiar with, higher education, is courting massive demoralization as many colleges and universities have forced faculty back to in-person teaching without providing the support necessary to do it safely. A University of Georgia Professor quit literally mid-class when a student refused to put on a mask. There’s widespread reports of faculty becoming Covid-positive after a single day of teaching.

College faculty are experiencing what many other laborers already went through in this pandemic, the sense that their employer views them as disposable. Because of the privileges that college professors have generally enjoyed, this is coming as a shock to many and it’s building towards a crisis.

I can’t even imagine what health care professionals are going through now. How much are we expecting people to keep sacrificing?

Once you lose faith in the structures of your employment, it’s impossible to go back. This ultimately what led me to leave teaching myself. I couldn’t reconcile the circumstances under which I labored with the importance of the work, so I figured out how to get away. I was lucky to have the resources to make that possible.

These are some of the reasons why I’m skeptical about returning to any kind of pre-Covid status quo. Too much has been revealed about the ways people are harmed by our institutional structures to pretend otherwise. The question in my mind is whether or not there is enough collective will/spirit to consider what kind of systemic changes will benefit society.

To bring this whole thing back to the purported theme of this newsletter, it will be fascinating to see what kind of art comes out of this period. When we go through these sorts of epochal shifts, change is gonna come.

If I’m still writing this thing 20 years from now (fingers crossed), I’ll be talking about the literature of the pandemic.

Hopefully in the past tense, but who knows?



My column this week is the story of how I was a youthful destroyer of books, who then grew into an adult whose books are often destroyed.

Electric literature has a great list of books by Native American writers.

Book Riot rounds up “20 Must-Read Books from University Presses.”

August 26th was apparently National Dog Day and in honor Lit Hub picked five books for dog lovers. One of them is Marley and Me.

Also in honor of National Dog Day, I dredged up this old recording of me reading my story which gently mocks Marley and Me, called '“My Dog and Me” on the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour show. “My Dog and Me” is collected in my story collection Tough Day for the Army.

Even more self-promotion, if you’ve been watching Netflix series The Chair, I go deep on why I think it doesn’t work as a satire.

The New York Times confirms what I wrote about last week, namely that there’s too many books coming in September.

Not to be outdone, the L.A. Times has 30 books they’re looking forward to this fall.

Lastly, a wonderful reflection on the nuts and bolts work of reviewing from one of our best contemporary book reviewers, Marion Winik.


All links to books on these posts go to The Biblioracle Recommends bookshop at Affiliate income for purchases through the bookshop goes to Open Books in Chicago. A little slow this week, with a small increase to $138.65.

If you’d like to see every book I’ve recommended in this space this year, check out my list of 2021 Recommendations at the bookshop.

As always, recommendations are open for business, and the supply remains low, so wait times are minimal

Want a recommendation? Click here!

1. Writers & Lovers by Lily King
2. The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
3. My Grandmother Told  Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman 
4. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery 
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Mari B. - Woodstock, IL

I just learned that Elizabeth Strout will be releasing the third book in her “Amgash” series (Oh William!), which means Mari has time to get to the first two installments, starting with My Name Is Lucy Barton.

1. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
2. The Newcomer by Mary Kay Andrews
3. The Ugly Cry by Danielle Henderson
4. The Last of the Moon Girls by Barbara Davis
5. The Last Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Karen B. - Homer Glen, IL

Somehow it looks like I haven’t recommended Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko to anyone this year, which is odd because it’s a book you could recommend to just about anyone. I think it’s perfect for Karen.

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Be good to yourselves, everyone.