Wednesday 10 March 2010

The world of work

I've written before about my interest in autobiographies focussing on the world of work, and I wanted to mention two more books that fit into this category which I've enjoyed recently.

A don's life by Mary Beard actually started out as a blog on the Times website; this book is a compilation of some of her best blog posts, and what was especially good about the collection is that some of the comments were included as well. Mary Beard is a lecturer in classics at Newnham College, Cambridge and the articles cover a broad spectrum of themes, from life as a college tutor, to life in a woman's college, to topics from the classics. As a member of The Other Place, I was interested to see the similarities between the two Oxbridge institutions - the poor provision of toilets for ladies for example, and the general incompetence of students. But I also learnt a lot from the articles about classics, such as what romans really wore under their togas! (The answer is generally something, but togas were only really the equivalent of black tie so most Romans wouldn't have been wearing them except for special occasions) Some of the posts are controversial, for example on whether there is a point to teaching Latin anymore, which can be seen in the comments made about the post. But overall I found this an intellectually stimulating, intelligent and entertaining read - best of all the articles are bite-size so it could easily be dipped in and out of.
The checkout girl was a title that I picked up randomly from the library. The author took a job at Sainsburys, partly to supplement her credit crunched finances, but also to find out what life in a supermarket was really like for the purposes of writing this book. Life as a COG (check-out girl/guy) sounds pretty grim - the need to meet targets for swiping groceries, the insistence on making conversation with the customers, having to do "reverse shopping" (putting back abandoned groceries on the shelves), minimal breaks and frequently having to work beyond the end of ones shift are just a few examples. It certainly made me be even more determined to be nice to the people on the checkouts when I go shopping. The other interesting element in the book was about how the credit crunch is affecting shoppers - Ahmad reveals the increasing desire of shoppers to lower their grocery bills and their horror when the total is invariably more than they expected. She also points out the success of the supermarkets in selling - people who come in for one specific item inevitably go out with several other things.

I wonder if I should write a book about being a librarian?!


  1. I am the same, just cannot get enough of people writing about their jobs. These look so interesting, and yes, you should absolutely write a book about being a librarian. I would read it! :)

  2. I've heard many good things about It's a Don's Life but, despite the praise, have never checked out either the blog or the book. Must investigate.

    Please, please, please write a book about being a librarian? Think of all the young people who need to be educated and inspired to follow your example!

  3. I might have to get hold of It's A Don's Life. I love reading fiction and non-fiction based around the academic life. It's part of the reason I love Barbara Pym's novels.

    Do write a book about being a librarian. There are lots of librarian myths/images that probably need dispelling or expanding on. Also your unique job at the Bod would give a great insight into the academic world... from a new angle.

    But really your Librarian Book should come second to the definitive guide to Virago Modern Classics... which I feel Virago should commission you to write asap!

  4. I was just talking to a friend about Mary Beard the other day. I hadn't realized she had a book out, though. Thank you!

  5. Ditto the above comments. I'm sure from reading your blog that you could write a must read book about being a librarian.

    I often find the attempts at striking up a conversation from the person on the check out at Sainsburys rather forced. I don't really want to chat when I'm packing the bags, I just want to get out of the shop asap and get the shopping home.

  6. Jenny - do you have any favourites?

    Claire - I think Don's life is something you would enjoy. Thanks for the encouragement - you're right, the profession could do with some promotion!

    Merenia - what a kind message! I'd love to be commissioned to write a guide to the VMCs !

    Kate - what a coincidence! She's written a lot of academic tomes too.

    Geraldine - I don't think I've ever had a checkout assistant really try to make conversation, so I was quite surprised by this insistence!

  7. Rachel and I saw Mary Beard talk before Christmas - she was hysterical and fascinating! I will have to look out for It's a Don's Life!

  8. I was just going to tell you that me and Naomi saw Mary Beard talk and I see she got there before me! I loved her, and thought she was very entertaining.

    As a former checkout girl myself, at Sainsburys no less, I can definitely stress the be nice to checkout girls thing - if people were nasty to me, I put my elbow on the scales when weighing their fruit and veg - evil I know, but some people truly deserved it!

  9. Naomi and Rachel - lucky u - I bet that was fascinating!

    Rachel - I can't believe you used to do that!!!


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