This girl thinks sleeping can solve all her problems, and she might be right—at least to some extent.
To me, one of the most important parts of writing is reading. Whether you read fiction or non-fiction, reading books and articles helps you pick up on new vocabulary and imagery that you can use in your writing. With that idea in mind, I lurk on #bookstagram fairly frequently and pick up whatever catches my eye.
My most recent read was My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. Released in 2018, this book is one of the author’s most famous works. While I don’t typically review my recent reads, I believe this one deserves special attention from both average readers and corporate employees.
About the book
Although everyone says, “never judge a book by its cover”, what attracted me to this book was the cover. It features the neoclassical painting “Portrait of a Young Woman in White” (circa 1798) by Jacques-Louis David. The painting depicts a woman with a forlorn expression looking to the left, which accurately expresses the book’s mood. Narrated by a 24/25-year-old woman (who remains unnamed, by the way), the book is about her mission to hibernate for a year. It features very few recurring characters—the protagonist, her therapist Dr. Tuttle, her best friend Reva and an artist called Ping Xi.
The book was set in the year 2000 in New York City. Our main character is a Columbia graduate who picked up a job fresh out of college as a desk attendant at an art gallery. Despite being fired from her job, the protagonist is able to fend for herself because her parents, who passed away during her time at Columbia, had left her a hefty inheritance. She self-proclaims her status as a girl who has it all—money, looks and a high-quality education. What she doesn’t take into account is that she is struggling to deal with the death of her parents and the lack of love she received as a child.
At some point during her time at the gallery, she decides to speak to a therapist called Dr. Tuttle and convinces the doctor that she is an insomniac. The doctor we progressively learn about is a quack and keeps giving her strong psychiatric medicines to help her sleep.
Main takeaways from this book
There is a lot to take away from this book, like the satire of the art movements in the 90s, the American healthcare system’s messed-up attitude towards the mentally-ill and the serious body image issues modern women have. Here, I will focus on the valuable lessons from the book for today’s business owners and corporate workers.
When reading this 221-page book, you will feel sucked into the head of a person who is obviously quite disturbed to even come up with the idea of sleeping away a year of her life. But when I brought up the concept of hibernation to people I know, many of them were envious of her. Even in the book, the protagonist’s best friend, Reva, makes it a point to highlight that she doesn’t have the luxury of sleeping through a year. I don’t think I need to point out the irony of people being jealous of a mentally disturbed person, but the fact that everyone envies her says something about the modern work culture and the resulting burnouts.
People work so hard that at the end of the day, they are left with feelings of negativism or cynicism about their jobs. This attitude is very well reflected in the book where our protagonist is constantly making sarcastic comments about the art world and her boss Natasha. She literally describes herself in her job as “the bi*** who sat behind a desk and ignored you when you walked into the gallery”—this is just a glimpse of the level of cynicism in this book. Also, she mocks the art displayed at the gallery. While her boss called the art “cerebral”, our protagonist thought that it was “all just canned counterculture crap, punk but with money”.
For me, the point of this book is to make readers think about how we should deal with burnouts, of course not by hibernating but just by taking it easy when you need to. I personally felt a sense of discomfort with the character’s ability to just pass time sleeping, and I think that reflects the constant pressure to hustle that we face today.
This book is a major wake-up call (if you see the irony in that!) for all of us who feel like we’d be worthless if we aren’t productive. It tells us that we all deserve some much-needed rest, and we don’t have to be productive all the time. Overall, I highly recommend reading this book. It is an invaluable piece of literature teaching you to go easy on yourself so that you feel more fulfilled not only at work but in your everyday life.
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