Amor Towles and life lessons from fiction
A passage from ‘Rules of civility’, by Amor Towles, that just got me thinking this morning.
Charlotte Sykes, the new girl who sat to my left. Nineteen years old with black hopeful eyes and alert little ears, Charlotte had made the tactical error of typing 100 words a minute her first day on the job. If you couldn’t type 75 words a minute you couldn’t work at Quiggin & Hale. But Charlotte was typing a good 15 words per minute over the mean performance of the pool. At 100 wpm, that’s 48,000 words a day, 240,000 words a week and 12 million words a year. As a new recruit, Charlotte was probably making $15 a week, or the equivalent of less than one ten-thousandth of a cent for every word she typed. That was the funny thing about typing faster than 75 words a minute at Quiggin & Hale — from there, the faster you were typing, the less per word you were being paid.
But that’s not how Charlotte saw it. Like an adventuress trying to complete the first solo flight across the Hudson River, she hoped to type as fast as was humanly possible. And as a result, whenever a case surfaced requiring a few thousand pages of duplication, you could be that the next light that clicked on over Miss Markham’s door would be the one under the F.
Which is just to say, be careful when choosing what you’re proud of — because the world has every intention of using it against you.
This launched me into a deep meditation on what I am proud of about myself, day in and day out, that I identify with, and the world sees it? When I say that the world I interact with values me for this, that, and this, what does it mean? Does it not translate into that being put to good use for somebody’s benefit? Am I that somebody? — If yes, to what extent? How can I optimise that benefit and what would that optimisation look like? More money, power, influence, or good sleep and health? Also, is there a world beyond the one that I interact with, that is material to this conversation. No, there can be no doubt about that — there certainly is. Then, what does that world value me for?
And the musings continue…
While they do, please enjoy the above prose, I think it’s a beautiful piece of art and I’m grateful to have stumbled upon Amor Towles — the second one by him that I’m reading currently. His first but my second. His second book — my first read — too is a smashing beauty. More on that later…