CLJ Reviews The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

What We Read

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton examines the nature of and our relationship with work – something that most of us will spend a good portion of life doing. De Botton takes a long walk with a man who loves powerlines, he sits with a career counselor through interviews and workshops and follows the death and consumption of a tuna steak. His examination of work challenges us to reflect on why we do what we do – that for many of us we are engaged in something that our sixteen year old selves decided for us – for better or worse!

What we did and how we did it

I was quite unsure of what to do for this book club but one idea came clearly from reading the book. In the chapter on biscuit manufacture, de Botton talks about the way in which meaning is placed in the intangible. That a circular biscuit conveys a particular message to us. I wondered what my work would look like as a biscuit … how would I convey what I did and what it meant to me using cookie dough and chocolate chips? And so our intrepid readers did exactly that. They created a cookie that represented their work.

As I was reading some online reviews about the book and thinking of questions to as the group I though – I wonder what Alain would ask the book club? So on a whim I went to his website, found his email and sent him a note. LO! In no time at all I had a reply and a question to ask book club. What a delight!

And his question was:

I’d ask: what other pleasures are there that work can deliver that are not considered here?
For example, the pleasure of serving. In other words, the question would be about people submitting ideas for imaginary further chapters to the book.

What we Thought

So what did we think? Perhaps it’s best demonstrated in my follow up email to Alain.

Hello Alain!

Well I must say that the Circle of Literary Judgment was very excited to receive a question from you as part of our book club discussion. It prompted some lively banter and here are some ideas that we think are perfect for your next book.

Other pleasures in work include:

  • Mastery “even like a cigar roller in Cuba”
  • Camaraderie, laughter, community and mentorship
  • Ritual “the treat of having coffee at 10:15″
  • Learning, education
  • The variety in simplicity

I’ve also attached a little snapshot of our cookie-making challenge. In competition for the trophy readers were asked to create a cookie to represent and invoke their feeling around their work. Just as ‘Moments’ are for ‘me time’.

You’ll be interested to learn that the winner of the trophy did not make a cookie but rather provided an appropriate accompaniment to our sweet treats – milk of course. You see John is a Career Counselor and as so winningly explained by him, his role is to provide the support and nourishment for our cookie-making endeavors. That is his cookie.

A final note: we received a card from Yann Martel! We had asked him to recommend books for us to read and I would like to extend the same request to you. What books should the Circle of Literary Judgment read next??

Thank you for providing us with such a wonderful book club book!


And Alain recommends:

Dear Natasha,

I now have book club envy. Your club looks such fun, I wish I could gatecrash. Perhaps one day…

I’m so glad things went well. In the future, you should read some Norman Mailer non-fiction (Of a Fire on the Moon ideally) or else the whole of Marcel Proust, or else, for a briefer thing, Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal.

I’m so glad Yann was a sport – and thanks so much to you for your kindness.

All best


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