Apply Within: Stories Of Career Sabotage

Apply WithinI finally got around to reading Michaela McGuire’s Apply Within: Stories of Career Sabotage today, in part because it was just returned by a friend, and in part because I was struggling to find the enthusiasm to finish a Book That Should Be Read.

I’m not sure why ‘worthy’ books are often watching-paint-dry dull, and you know I’m struggling to get through one when I scroll aimlessly through my iPhone, repeatedly checking emails and social media news feeds instead of cracking said book open on the train. Were the book Vampire Academy or the like, I’d be ditching the phone and praying for a longer ride.

Not so with this one, I’m afraid. The dry, dull book currently in question is David Borstein’s earnest-sounding, earnest-in-execution How To Change The World. I hand-on-my-heart want to like and finish it, I really, truly do. But I allowed myself a reading reward, having made it approximately half way through.

The reward was Apply Within, a book of short stories of the soul-destroying casual jobs McGuire’s held during her time at uni and beyond. It’s a book I (and indeed any current or former uni student) can relate to well, and that I could have written myself. But that’s what everyone says when a book based on a simple concept and experience we’ve all had comes out, isn’t it?

Apply Within emerged from a blog McGuire originally kicked off on the same theme, and it spans her time working for a federal Liberal MP during what turned out to be the Kevin ’07 juggernaut of a Labor campaign, as well as stints cleaning ash trays at the casino, selling ‘green power’ door to door, arranging a solicitor’s butterfly collection during temp work at a law firm, and booking lap dances during her time at a strip club.

I’m not going to claim Apply Within is a great literary tome, but it’s important to note that nor does it set out to be. Throughout it McGuire succinctly, dryly, captures the mundane, often inane work experiences we’ve all had, from dodgy bosses to overzealous workmates who take their menial jobs far too seriously. Her wry, outsider–insider approach to the tales kind of makes you think it was the this-is-grist-for-the-mill way she coped with these mind-numbing, soul-sacrificing jobs.

Zigzag StreetIt’s also worth noting that McGuire’s gone on to do some cool stuff since the book’s publication, including setting up the Women of Letters literary events I recently attended for the first time and blogged about. In short: she got out.

I’d sit Apply Within alongside John Birmingham’s He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, which recounts the horrors of sharehousing with people whose habits and cleanliness aren’t always above board.

I’d also liken it to Nick Earls’ breakout book Zigzag Street, which likewise put some parts of Brisbane on the map. This in no way means that non-Brisbane-ites couldn’t and shouldn’t read it, because the dead-end job theme is one that transcends city and state borders. But it’s rare for Brisbane to feature in books (or books you actually want to read), so it warrants mentioning.

Having raced through Apply Within in three too-short sittings (it’s just under 200 pages long), I’ve enjoyed my sugary reading treat and am heading back to the not-so-sugary How To Change The World. Wish me luck. I’m determined to finish it; I just might not enjoy it.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.

One thought on “Apply Within: Stories Of Career Sabotage”

  1. I knew you’d like it–sorry that pesky friend took such a long time giving it back. I’m fairly sure she wanted to keep it and ‘forget’ where she got it from, so at least there’s that. I love that this book is set in Brisbane; it gave it an extra shot of charm for me. She has such a fantastic grip on dead-pan humour that I haven’t seen in book form in a very long time.

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