Sometimes work gets too serious. When that happens for me, I like to turn to some light reading, especially books that make me laugh. Over the years, I've collected a number of favorites, hence this post.
Note: I skipped over collections of comic strips for this post. Maybe another post someday.
1. The Dilbert Principle
Subtitle: A Cubicle's Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions
Author: Scott Adams
5 Second Summary: The famous cartoonist lampoons business books while providing a useful guide to surviving corporate life. This is one of the few business books that's worth reading multiple times.
- "If a document is over two pages long, few people will ever read it. And those who do we get won't remember it in 24 hours. That's why all your documents should be over two pages long. You don't want your readers to be influenced by a bunch of facts. You want them to look at your creative use of fonts, your brilliant application of white space, and your inspired graphics. Good formatting leaves the reader with the clear impression that you are a genius and therefore whatever you're writing about must be a good idea."
- "Job descriptions are hideously cumulative. The longer you stay in one job, the more work you'll be asked to do. That's because people will figure out what you do and they'll know how to find you. Worse yet, you will become competent over time and that's as good a begging for more work."
- "The worth of any project is based on how it will sound on your resume. Don't get caught up in the propaganda about how important something is for the stockholders. The stockholders are people you'll never meet. And since most projects fail or turn into something you never intended, the only lasting impact of your work is the impact on your resume. Keep your priorities straight."
2. Culture Made Stupid
Subtitle: A Misguided Tour of Illiterature, Fine & Dandy Arts, & the Subhumanities
Author and Illustrator: Tom Weller
5 Second Summary: A satire of the "Overview of Western Civilization" textbooks taught in American high schools. The section on graphic arts is hilarious to anyone who's worked in a marketing group.
3. The Jeeves Novels
Author: P.G. Wodehouse
5 Second Summary: In A phenomenally wise valet (Jeeves) saves his feckless bachelor employer (Bertie Wooster) and friends from frequent social and economic disasters. Much of the humor lies in the fact that the employee is obviously of superior intelligence to his employer, a situation not unusual in real life.
Excerpts: (Because Wodehouse humor is situational, I thought it would be better show a dramatic adaptation. In the clips, Jeeves disapproves of the sartorial choices of his employer; the dialog is verbatim from the books.)
4. The Encyclopedia of Hell
Subtitle: An Invasion Manual for Demons Concerning the Planet Earth and the Human Race Which Infests It
Author: Martin Olsen
5 Second Summary: A combination of Ambrose Bierce's "The Devil's Dictionary" with C.S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters" but with far more sarcasm. So much of today's workplace is "let's all be happy" that it's a relief to wallow in some unapologetic cynicism.
- BANK (bhgk) n. 1. Institution dedicated to the science of stealing its customers' assets. 2. Institution which a human must pay to have access to his own money.
- PHILOSOPHY (f l s f) n. The twaddle that the human brain excretes under the influence of pipe smoke.
- ROBOT (r bt) n. From the corporate viewpoint, the ideal human being.
5. Science Made Stupid
Subtitle: How to Discomprehend the World Around Us
Author and Illustrator: Tom Weller
5 Second Summary: A satire of the "Introduction to Science" books taught in American middle schools. Since much of today's workplace is driven by the "science of" this or that, this is a good reminder that there's an absurd side to science.
6. The Stench of Honolulu
Subtitle: A Tropical Adventure
Author: Jack Handey
5 Second Summary: An adventure thriller told from the viewpoint of a semi-literate, media-soaked loser. There are points in this book where I laughed so hard I literally felt sick afterwards. Fortunately, I work at home.
- "It felt like elves were hammering nails into my head, but with no rhyme or reason. Then it felt like I was rolling around on a bed of thumbtacks. But this was no party game. Terrifying visions swirled through my head: an alarm clock going off; a riding lawn mower with my name on it; a man happily rocking from side to side, playing a banjo. The blow-dart poison was destroying my mind, and not in a good way."
- "I came upon a beautiful wild parrot. I thought if I could catch him, I could train him to talk. I chased that parrot for the longest time. He would squawk and I would squawk back. Every time I squawked back he would drop a piece of breadfruit to me, as a reward. But I had to do the exact same squawk that he did. He was very patient, repeating the squawk over and over until I got it right."
- "The world looks different after you've narrowly avoided joining the Hawaiian Army. Colors seem brighter. Every breath seems like a gift, and every cigarette a treasure. There was a spring in my step, so much that people told me to stop doing it. My mind was expanding. Or maybe my brain was expanding. Something was expanding. The sunshine seemed warmer, the breeze cooler, and my pants seemed to fit better. I felt generosity toward all mankind. I gave my stapler to a leper. I noticed things I had never noticed before, like the dew on the spiderweb and the blood on the giant spiderweb."
7. Truer Than True Romance
Subtitle: Classic Love Comics Retold
Author: Jeanne Martinet
5 Second Summary: The author of "The Art of Mingling" rewrites and updates the "True Romance" comic books that she read in her youth.
8. The Complete Yes Minister
Authors: Jonathan Lynn & Anthony Jay
5 Second Summary: A clueless Cabinet Minister in the British government, James Hacker, matches wits with a government bureaucrat, Sir Humphrey Appleby. The back and forth between the minister's dictated-while-drunk diary entries and supporting documentation (meeting notes, memos, etc.) precisely skewers the inefficiency of governments and large organizations in general.
I persevered. "Humphrey, in your evidence to the Think-Tank, are you going to support my view that the civil service is overmanned and featherbedded or not? Yes or no! Straight answer!"
Could I have put this question anymore plainly? I don't think so. This was the reply: "Minister, if I am pressed for a straight answer I shall say that, as far as we can see, looking at it by and large, taking one thing with another, in terms of the average of departments, then in the last analysis it is probably true to say that, at the end of the day, you would find, in general terms that, not to put too fine a point on it, there really was not very much in it one way or the other."
While I was still reeling from this, he added, no doubt for further clarification, "As far as one can see, at this stage."
I made one last attempt. "Does that mean yes or no?" I asked, without much hope.
"Yes and no," he replied helpfully.
"Suppose," I said, "Suppose you weren't asking for a straight answer?"
He said happily, "Then I should play for time, Minister."
9. The Book of Sequels
Subtitle: The Greatest Stories Ever Retold
Authors: Henry Beard, Christopher Cerf, Sarah Durkee, and Sean Kelly
5 Second Summary: The book lampoons--or more accurately harpoons--great works of literature that have perhaps been taken a trifle too seriously. A big plus for business book readers is: "The One Bullet Manager."
10. What I'd Say to the Martians
Subtitle: And Other Veiled Threats
Author: Jack Handey
5 Second Summary: Essays and short stories by the author of Saturday Night Live's "Deep Thoughts" segments. IMHO, the funniest book ever written.
- "Dear Sir: Please be advised that the person we hired instead of you has been promoted to department manager, and he has asked us to inform you that, should a position open up, he would not hire you. Sincerely, Personnel Department"
- "It was really sad when I went to visit my friend Jim at the state mental institution. He was convinced he was on a tropical island with no cares and no worries. It took me a long time to convince him that, no, he was in a room with bare walls and a bare bed and he was wearing a straitjacket."
- "This is as real as a baby deer calling out for his mother. But his mother won't be coming home anytime soon, because she is drunk in a bar somewhere."