Herbert's (Creating the AHRC, 2008) latest book—half epistolary memoir, half advice guide— tells young adults why they should be serious about their work.
“I had often professed that a liberal education was good preparation for life,” the author writes in the book’s opening letter. “My worklife ended up testing that traditional guidance.” He then puts his education to good use, penning a total of 25 letters to “Jonah,” a stand-in for all young people who are gearing up to enter the adult workplace. The letters touch on issues of philosophy, history and psychology, while also recounting anecdotes about Herbert’s life as a working stiff and his struggle to make a difference in an indifferent world. The autobiographical fragments manage to be both sobering in their depiction of cold bureaucratic work and inspirational in their optimism in the face of adversity. Herbert notes that he takes his inspiration from Swiss film director Alain Tanner’s 1976 classic, Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, about youth in the aftermath of the social upheavals of the late ’60s. He quotes a line from the film: “In twenty-five years the century will spit him out….That’s the time left for us to help him get off the shit-pile.” The author takes the same admirable stance—that older generations have an obligation to make the world better for younger ones. However, the book does become repetitive, reminding readers again and again about how harsh and heedless the adult world can be. This isn’t particularly surprising or insightful advice, especially considering that the world of the young can also be harsh and heedless, and some readers may feel it to be condescending. Overall, the book might have benefited from a less heavy-handed approach. But when the gloom and doom are wiped away, one finds a remarkably beautiful book underneath. Perhaps if Herbert had concentrated his efforts into a narrative form, he could have achieved his noble goals more effectively.
A smart memoir, wrapped inside an overly didactic advice book.