A friend of mine recently had a management-consultant job interview in which he was asked to name the last book he read. I don't know how he answered - he is not a regular book reader.
My immediate perverse thoughts turned to what answers would be most unhelpful for him getting hired: Mein Kampf, AA Group Handbook, Eat the Rich.
I have a good answer ready if I am asked that question for a psychology-professor position: I am reading The Body by Bill Bryson.
I could regale the interviewers with fascinating facts. For instance, a few per cent of people lose their sense of smell. Some unluckier people perceive all smells as that of poop. Also, I would describe Cotard's Delusion, in which individuals are absolutely convinced they are dead.
Aside from telling the truth about the last book I read, I would be paralysed with doubt about how to answer.
Would naming a biography of, say, George Washington, mean that I am living in the past? What if the bio was of a crackpot psychologist like Wilhelm Reich, who ended up in prison?
It might be safer if I named Be Here Now by Ram Dass. It is a classic related to mindfulness, a topic much in vogue with psychologists.
I have read all the above books.
I do not think my current honest answer would say more about me than any of the other books.
I have read self-help books for all sorts of disorders out of curiosity or as part of a research project on the value of self-help books. I would not want to give that explanation during a job interview.
Once when visiting the public library, a nice staff member told me I had a book overdue. I asked which book, and she whispered the title - something about beating alcoholism.
Now let's turn to you. What was the last book you read?
What does your answer (or long pause) mean about you? What might you read next and then proudly mention to anyone who was interested?
Finally, let's turn back to my management-consultant pal.
What would be the best book for him to read before his next job interview so he has a good answer ready for the question?
I suggested he read a recently published book on job interviews. He might learn something useful, and the interviewers will think he is goal-focused.
John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England.