Editorial team AccountingWEB.co.uk
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What we've been reading

What We’ve Been Reading: Death, Chapo, and the working commute

30th Aug 2018
Editorial team AccountingWEB.co.uk
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Welcome to What We've Been Reading. It's that weekly round-up of the articles that have caught the AccountingWEB editors attention. It's basically a weekly book club. 

If the end of the summer heat wave wasn't enough, this week's WWBR has taken a sombre turn. But if the thought of death and the always-on culture feels a little too heavy as the working week draws to a close, we have also sprinkled the feature with an ample dose of humour thanks to an irreverant podcast. 

So, read on. Be sure to let us know if any of these pieces resonate with you. Or, alternatively, if you've read something this week that you would like to share. 

* * * 

Francois: The Chapo Guide to Revolution

FrancoisI don’t really listen or watch to shows with religious devotion anymore. My internet-addled brain struggles to concentrate, and I try to preserve what concentration I have left for reading.

Game of Thrones, when it’s on, I’ll watch every week. I’m half watching Westworld, I suppose. True Detective, whenever it comes back. Otherwise, there’s nothing that enthralls me.

But there’s one exception: the comedy podcast Chapo Trap House. Whenever the show is released - about twice a week - I tune in immediately. I’m a ‘Grey Wolf’, as the show calls its fans (a title expropriated from a Turkish ultra-nationalist organisation).

The show isn’t for everyone, to say the least. It’s brash, gleefully acidic, snarky in the extreme - but it has heart. In fact, once you become familiar, you see it’s all guts and blood, and there’s something profound in the way the Chapo guys - self-admitted ‘failsons’ - articulate the meaninglessness and alienation of modern life.

I was excited, then, when they recently expanded the show into a book. The Chapo Guide to Revolution outlines what life will be like following the Chapo Revolution. Logic is banned, everyone gets a dog and billionaires are turned into soylent.

It’s more Groucho than Karl Marx. But despite the tomfoolery, the book - like the show - can’t conceal its righteous, bitterly funny anger. “These days, most jobs are positions that used to be done by five different people, squeezing out every last drop of labour with more hours, more intensity, and more productivity,” they write.

“You receive the privileges of emailing people who have sublimated their personality disorders into ‘management styles’ and playing the pawn in bizarre office power plays between proud MBAs. And you’re lucky to do it.”

* * *

Valme: When breath becomes air

Valme ClaroAs someone who had been exposed to classic literature since he was a kid, Paul Kalanithi decided to continue studying literature at university with a clear goal in mind: to understand what life is really about through the words of others.

After reading how the mind is simply an operation of the brain, he understands there are things he will only get to understand about life and death by looking at their biological side. And thus he decides to become a physician.

A few years later, when he is in his thirties and about to graduate after his medical residence, he finds out he has a lethal type of cancer. He discovers that after even after seeing hundreds of patients, living the real experience was the only thing he wasn’t prepared for.

Kalanithi is then left to decide what to do with the time he has left. Without knowing whether he will die within weeks, months or years he has to choose between continuing with his career, becoming a writer, having a child or not.

The book is unfinished, but gives a glimpse of what living with a terminal disease is like, how to make decisions and find purpose in the face of death. But mainly, it is a kind reminder to the reader: make your life worth living and, above all, memento mori.

* * *

Richard: Emails while commuting ‘should count as work’

Richard HattersleyI spend far too long on public transport. It feels like I spend more time with that passenger who sneezes like an air siren than I do with my nearest and dearest.

So, what can you possibly do during this effectively “dead time”? Of course, staring out the window is an option. Not a productive one, but still an option. Others prefer catching a sneaky snooze. And certainly on my commute, the odd few (emphasis on 'odd') concoct new smells. 

But the overwhelming majority are illuminated as they sit hunched over their smartphone screen. While the masses gaze at their Facebook newsfeed, there are some that spend their journey catching up with work emails. A study featured in this BBC article found that 54% of commuters use the train’s wi-fi to send work emails.

Researchers for the study suggested that this time should count towards your working hours. This illustrates the worrying blurring of work and life. The commute no longer offers that buffer between the two. Instead of winding down after work, the commute just extends the frazzlement.

It’s important then that this commute time is used mindfully. Confession time: I was one of the commuters entranced by their smartphone. Ultimately I didn’t achieve much. It only extended the time my mind was zombified by work. I would aimlessly click between the same three websites. 

That’s why the buffer is sacrosanct. It’s a clear distinction between work and life. I don’t even pick up the phone – that is a gateway to the social media time drain or emails.  Instead, I read. For about an hour, the book creates a clear break between work and life. I am quite literally transported to a different place, rather than clinging on to the work conveyor belt.

Over to you. Do you use your commute as a break, or are you one of the many checking your emails?

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