Friday, 29 October 2010

Jobs and books

Tavistock Square, taken by C Ford March 04

Simon at Stuck in a Book asked today whether people really like to read books about their jobs? His post and the subsequent comments reminded of one of my favourite extracts, discovered not long after I had started my present job, and treasured ever since. By one of my favourite authors, it elegantly sums up the possible pitfalls of my role. Every time I read it, I think there but for the grace of God… Pym’s elegant prose always fills me with delight, but the book this comes from, Less Than Angels, with its impoverished postgrads anxiously hoping for travel grants, meagre receptions that take place in the same room as the lecture, and academic backbiting, is especially dear to me:
Esther Clovis had formerly been secretary of a Learned Society, which post she had recently left because of some disagreement with the President. It is often supposed that those who live and work in academic or intellectual circles are above the petty disputes that vex the rest of us, but it does sometimes seem as if the exalted nature of their work makes it necessary for them to descend occasionally and to refresh themselves, as it were, by squabbling about trivialities. The subject of Miss Clovis’s quarrel with the President was known only to a privileged few and even those knew no more than that it had something to do with the making of tea. Not that the making of tea can ever really be regarded as a petty or trivial matter and Miss Clovis did not seem to have been seriously at fault. Hot water from the tap had been used, the kettle had not been quite boiling, the teapot had not been warmed…whatever the details, there had been words, during the course of which other things had come out, things of a darker nature. Voices had been raised and in the end Miss Clovis had felt bound to hand in her resignation.


  1. Well, do people like to read books about their jobs? Interesting question and one I have, I must admit, never pondered.
    Of course I can only speak to myself, and I say: yes, I like to read about things I know and things I understand, and since my job is one of those things I both know and understand (and, most of the time, like), I wouldn't mind reading a book about it.

  2. That's a great passage! I have never read a book about my job, but it has only just become my job so far. :p

  3. That's a great passage! I have never read a book about my job, but it has only just become my job so far. :p

  4. I like work-based fiction a lot, and I'm rather surprised that more job-based books aren't written. Even if mainly written by part-time writers!

  5. I LOVE Barbara Pym and this is one of my favourite passages! Do you know about the Barbara Pym Yahoo group?