What We’ve Been Reading: Language, sleeping and lobstersby
Welcome to What We've Been Reading. It's a chance for AccountingWEB's editorial team to share the articles that have caught their interest this week. It's a bit like a book club.
Like any good book club, What We've Been Reading (or WWBR as the cool kids are calling it) requires your views, opinions, and suggestions. Topics up for consideration this week include sleep, learning new languages and lobsters.
Richard: Sleep better, lead better
I get a solid seven hours sleep a night. But in those initial moments after the morning alarm trills, my first reaction is to retreat back under the covers.
Even with that respectable amount, I still spend the whole of my commute adjusting to the new day (looking like a newborn hamster staring at the sun) and trying to shake off this groggy feeling.
It’s for this reason that I can’t imagine how those who wear their sleep deprivation as a badge of honour are able to compute. For accountants this is especially true on time-squeezed days such as January 31. Many accountants in practice don’t so much as burn the midnight candle during this peak season but engulf it with a flame thrower.
Unsurprisingly, sleep deprivation doesn’t translate into calm and measured leadership. On AccountingWEB this summer we’ve seen examples of accountants working all hours on their firm. It’s almost an obsession.
But as a recent study from the Harvard Business Review confirms, those that shortchange on their sleep end up being less productive and are more irritable (accountant Alistair Hayward-Wright said in the recent sunburn and burnout article that his long hours actually caused silly mistakes).
In turn, this affects the sleep-deprived leader’s ability to motivate staff. Not a good attribute if the leader is trying to rally the troops before the self assessment deadline.
But this can all be solved with a brief nap. One study found that just eight minutes sleep is enough to decrease errors and increase stamina for attention. So next self assessment season why don’t you take a crafty nap to catch up with your sleep? If anyone says anything, just say that you’re being productive and improving your memory. You never know: it could work.
People who speak multiple languages fascinate me. I won’t find it very surprising if, for instance, you speak Swedish, German and Danish because your mother is Swedish, your father German and you grew up in Denmark. However, those who have learned multiple languages through their adult lives… how have they done it? Do they have some kind of real-life superpower? Are there any miraculous techniques the rest of us mortals are not aware of?
I am only fluent in Spanish (my first language) and English, which I started learning as a child (and which definitely makes things easier). Yet, all my other attempts at learning a new language haven’t been very successful. I’ve studied French for more years than I’d like to admit and yet, no one in their right mind would want to find themselves lost in the middle of a random French town if my knowledge of Baudelaire’s language was the only tool we could use to find our destination.
During a trip to Berlin earlier this year I repeated the sentence used to ask for the bill in German in my mind over a dozen times only to end up saying it in English (I’ve studied German for over two years). And even though I can read and understand Italian quite well, my attempts at practising it during my last trip to northern Italy were more than rudimental.
So what is the secret of those who speak over ten languages? The conclusion of the article seems to be that there is no secret after all, just dedication and hard work. “Boring” I hear you say. I agree. I wish there was an easier way, but for now, we’ll just have to start dusting off our old language books.
Fran: Consider the lobster
In 2004, the now defunct culinary monthly Gourmet Magazine sent David Foster Wallace to the Maine Lobster Festival (MLF). You may recognise Wallace’s name, he is a highly influential author.
Wallace is well known for his maximalist style. His most notable book, Infinite Jest, is a 1,400 page behemoth. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how his dispatch from the MLF came to pass. Indeed, in the piece he admits to not actually being that enamoured with lobster.
It was a highly unusual move for Gourmet, too. The magazine was a fixture among New York’s dandies and fancy lads. And Wallace, with his Midwestern ordinariness and critiques of hedonistic consumption, wasn’t exactly a bon vivant.
But still, he goes along. And what emerges is more poignant than any lobster festival has a right to be. Wallace, in all of his writing not just here, is preternaturally adept at identifying and diagnosing hurt. The small ones, the ones we walk past everyday, the commonplace sadnesses.
He extends that gift to the lobster. Certainly not a beautiful creature or an easy one to commiserate with. These aren’t pandas, furry and cute, and the MLF goes to some lengths to explain away how these creatures are cooked. That is, placed in boiling water while still alive.
In the article, Wallace masterfully pivots to this question. The opening section is light hearted (and a genuinely interesting culinary history of the lobster). But this opening is only a stalking horse. About midway through, Wallace reveals his true intentions:
“So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the U.S.: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?” he asked.
He added, “A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does ‘all right’ even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?”