I have read most of de Botton’s books, and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work took me the longest to finish, partly because I am a slow reader, but I blame more on the editing. The chapters are his brief immersions in ten jobs, across the professions.
While absorbing his philosophical reflections was at times illuminating, often his presentations was one of the mundaneness of it all.
Yes, work can be mundane. But for many (if not most), it provides an important sense of worth.
de Botton didn’t ask workers what they enjoy about their work, if they derived any pleasure, even if only social.
Because most work brings people together — colleagues we call them — and for some the proverbial water cooler gossip or post-day pint makes the toil bearable.
Indeed, I would have liked to learn de Botton’s thoughts on the increasing remoteness of work — hot desking, meetings in coffee shops, virtual meetings via Skype calls.
Here, the first two chapters — on cargo shipping and logistics — speak to the physical dimension of our consumption.
But they also provide scope to ponder about how we make those purchases, frequently from our beds tapping an iPad rather than a journey to a town centre.
de Botton serendipitously finds himself in a graveyard of jumbo planes, and he uses the metaphor fittingly to conclude the chapter and the book.
Perhaps this was his intention all along — to make the reader endure the tedium, to learn that our jobs are just ‘matchstick protests’ in the wave of life.