My Year of Rest and Relaxation
The patron saint of burnout (before we were all talking about burnout), Ottessa Moshfegh’s narrator finds an unconventional way to cope: by embarking on a yearlong hibernation induced by prescribed pharmaceuticals. While no one would condone the strategy—nor, honestly, much of the narrator’s discomfiting, darkly comic behavior—I found it totally cathartic to vicariously live a year of complete alienation and zero commitments. We can dream, right?
The New Me
Another unfortunately relatable protagonist, 30-year-old Millie is still a temp in a boring office job, still fantasizing about that yoga class she might take or that hobby she might try, and still bingeing copious amounts of TV on her laptop. Both a satire on American office culture and our era of endless self-improvement, Halle Butler captures the constant ping-ponging between angst and hopefulness with disquieting (and hilarious) precision.
Xuan Juliana Wang
Of course, burnout isn’t a singular experience. In Xuan Juliana Wang’s debut story collection, she explores the worlds of Chinese millennials trying to figure out what it means to live a meaningful life. A synchronized swimmer competing in the Beijing Olympics must decide what sacrifices he’s willing to make to go on. A wealthy, globetrotting young woman navigates loneliness and a lack of purpose living in the states. Wang asks big questions about class, identity, and generational trauma in this stunning collection.
Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA
Ready to feel even more seen—and take some steps toward the other side of burnout? In this essential read, sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski take a science-based approach and investigate how women experience burnout differently than men. From workplace gaps, everyday sexism, and perpetual bombardment about the supposed inadequacies of our bodies, it’s no wonder that women are tapped out. The Nagoskis expose those obstacles and offer advice about breaking the stress cycle, managing emotions, and tapping into joy.
How to Do Nothing
In How to Do Nothing, artist and critic Jenny Odell argues that our attention is our most valuable resource, and she makes a case for using that resource to push back against the capitalist ideal of hyper-efficiency. Rather than just listing off the reasons we should minimize screen-time, Odell’s crafted a practical field guide to slowing down, paying attention to our spaces, and reclaiming our monetized attention.
More Than Enough
Elaine Welteroth, the editor who revolutionized Teen Vogue, has been a lifelong changemaker, shattering all sorts of ceilings as a young Black woman in media. In her memoir-manifesto, she recounts the triumphs and setbacks in her professional life, including the burnout-related health consequences she experienced during her tenure at Teen Vogue—before dancing, as she puts it, into a new and unknown future.
Passing for Human
You probably recognize Liana Finck’s trademark illustrations from her New Yorker cartoons, and with Passing for Human, you get to revel in her artistry—and unique voice—for a gloriously uninterrupted stretch. Finck’s graphic memoir finds the artist reckoning with accepting her truest self (as alienated and failure-prone as she often feels) and considering what it means to be a creator and woman in today’s world.
Tiny Beautiful Things
I first read Tiny Beautiful Things in my early 20s; I’m about to go in for a second read at the end of my 20s, and I’m certain that I’ll discover all-new moments of much-needed wisdom. Selections from Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar advice column are compiled in all their messy, gracious, fearless, and tearful glory (seriously—prepare for tears). It’s a literary antidote for whatever ails you, and a soothing read when you’re feeling burnt out.
If you, like me, read Anne Helen Petersen’s Buzzfeed article, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation,” back in January and everything suddenly made sense—and if you, like me, are someone who derives deep comfort from books—you’re in the right place. These eight books of fiction and nonfiction circle around that pervasive malady in some way or another, be it implicitly or explicitly, empathically or ironically. Either way, they’re great companions for your existential journey through burnout. And when you’re on the up and up, we’ve got recs for even more life-affirming essay collections.
Featured image: ElenaT/Twenty20