The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de Botton

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

Most of us stand poised at the edge of brilliance, haunted by the knowledge of our proximity, yet still demonstrably on the wrong side of the line, our dealings with reality undermined by a range of minor yet critical psychological flaws (a little too much optimism, an unprocessed rebelliousness, a fatal impatience or sentimentality). We are like an exquisite high-speed aircraft which for lack of a tiny part is left stranded beside the runway, rendered slower than a tractor or a bicycle.

I considered this an apt read for the state in which I find myself now: joblessness.  It feels like a void, like a time-out, like sitting on the bench while the rest of the world eagerly takes part in one of the longest traditions of mankind, employment.

I’ve read Botton before.  Whilst studying creative writing in Italy, I was assigned to read his book The Art of Travel.  It wasn’t an easy go, I will tell you that (although Italian men and wine may have distracted me from it), so I knew coming into the The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work I was to expect a perhaps similarly slow go of it.  Since we’re already nearly reaching the end of December, however, loitering through a read is a luxury I simply cannot afford, and I ripped through this book and its ten chapters two days ago.  A perfect snowy Sunday read.

I give points to the considerable breadth and depth of this book.  The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work is split into stand-alone ten chapters, each dedicated to looking at a different division of work: cargo ship spotting, biscuit manufacture, logistics, career counselling, rocket science, painting, transmission engineering, accountancy, entrepreneurship, and aviation.  Like I so I so remember of Botton, he does something  a little different for each career.  In the case of the logistics chapter, Botton muses about where the tuna that arrive at shipping centres in Britain actually originated, and goes  on a bit of an adventure to discover the entire journey of those tuna back to Britain. Of course Botton has to accompany the interesting dissections with a level of pretension that I can barely even stomach.   It’s his style though, and he completely owns it.

He isn’t the easiest author to read, but he’ll always leave you something to think about.

Vittorio commanded quite the presence at the International Student House.   A tall, affable Roman, he was either usually spotted laughing or playing the piano, his strong, deep voice singing proudly along.  I had to have him for this project, naturally, and asked if he would consider reading the first page from Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.  As a very business-all-day, pleasure-all-night type of guy (apt for an Italian too), I thought he would be well suited to it.  And his rich, deep voice captures the passage perfectly, I think.

Books Read: 13

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