The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead

[Amazon Link]

Charles Murray is on my short list of must-read non-fiction writers, and this was, more or less, an automatic buy. It's short, and cheap even in hardcover ($10.98 at Amazon as I type).

There is a slight problem: I am not at all the target audience for this book. It's aimed at the recent college grad who's casting around looking for what to do with the rest of his or her life. I remember being that person; I wish I had this book then. So I read a lot of this with the attitude: "Good advice, but it's too late now." Ah well, things worked out OK without it. (But much of the counsel here is good for people of any age.)

Because that's what this book is: a collection of tips based on Murray's insights and experience. You'll get a lot of practical wisdom, rooted in classical liberal tradition. He bills himself as a "curmudgeon", but he lacks the grumpiness and stinginess I usually associate with that word (at least on the written page). He is brief, didactic, and judgmental: here's my advice, take it or leave it.

Kids, you should take it. I'm speaking as one of Murray's fellow curmudgeons.

It's a hodgepodge, with four main sections: (1) workplace comportment (grooming, dress, communications, professionalism, politics); (2) writing and thinking recommendations; (3) personal development; (4) the pursuit of happiness. Yes, you will be (a) admonished not to confuse continual with continuous in the same book that (b) provides guidance on what to look for (and what to avoid) in a prospective spouse. That's idiosyncratic, sure. But I suppose it also means you can read the book frequently over the span of years and nearly always find something relevant to what you're doing right now.

I want to underscore one of Murray's peeves (out of many in tip #15): "Literally used to mean figuratively." Linguists will quibble: the use of "literally" to mean "not really literally" has been common for centuries, and most dictionaries (since they describe how words are used, not how they should be) sanction the usage.

But Murray (and his fellow curmudgeons, who are everywhere) will find it grating, sticking out of your prose like a sore thumb (but not a literal sore thumb). You will be suspected of slovenly habits of thought. You might get away with it, but why take the chance?

[Hm, now I have to search through 9+ years of Pun Salad postings and make sure I never, ever, screwed this up…]

I especially appreciated his tip number 34: "Watch Groundhog Day repeatedly." I do that; I try to watch it every February 2. Although we've never met, I suspect Murray and I may be kindred spirits. I don't know if Charles Murray is any relation to Bill Murray.