When we think of values, we often think of big nouns like trust, integrity, and moral responsibility. Values are words and standards to live by.
But one quick look at the stated values in today’s companies indicates an interesting trend – namely, that there are no nouns without verbs, and that values are nothing without actions to back them up.
At Books@Work, we look for books and stories with multiple “handles,” or angles to address. We love narratives that provoke tough questions and stir debate, that kindle memories and foster connection. Sometimes a story may defy the reader’s expectations and assumptions. And sometimes a story may seem like it’s “about” one thing – but a well-facilitated conversation exposes deeper thematic layers.
In ZZ Packer’s “Brownies,” the most popular members of an all-black girl scout troop convince their fellow Brownies to confront an all-white troop for using a racial slur. To avoid spoilers, suffice it to say that the confrontation does not go as planned – and the girls realize they have spectacularly misjudged the situation.
How did Hamilton come from nothing to become who he was? What was his leadership style? How did he know to insist that we do need a central government, even though we wanted to break away from the British monarchy? In one Books@Work session, a group of senior leaders explored what they can learn from the divergent styles of Hamilton and Washington as they faced the Whiskey Rebellion.
The end of 2018 brings with it a wave of “Best Books” round-ups – and we at Books@Work are no exception. But instead of naming favorites in 2018, our list highlights the books and short stories that spurred the most profound, perplexing and thought-provoking discussions for Books@Work participants this year.
We believe that meaningful conversation kindles social connection in the workplace and beyond. These ten diverse narratives represent the essential “ingredients” for good conversation, from dynamic characters and ethical dilemmas to energetic plots and unfamiliar worlds.
Today’s interview features Books@Work facilitator Dr. Heather Braun, an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Akron, where she also serves as Honors Advisor and Internship Liaison for the department.
“How have you managed to pivot from the classroom setting to facilitating literature discussions with adults in the workplace?”
In both settings, it’s really important to me to make the material matter and to show readers how it’s relevant to their lives. I think Books@Work is a really effective way of doing this. You’re getting to hear honest reactions from readers who are not paying for a class in the “real world” and who are seeking that relevance, too, in what they read.
Both settings also offer readers a chance to connect with each other. That’s something I also try to do in my classes because I think it increases engagement and interest, and my students are more likely to read the material when they feel like they are a part of a kind of family that listens and supports them.
Some of the best Books@Work books spur conversations about what it means to be human. These books shed light on universal issues: family, work, identity, relationships and more. But sometimes, a good Books@Work book resonates with a group because it seems to exist specifically and solely for them. One such book is Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures.
Hidden Figures tells the nonfiction story of three African-American female mathematicians who operates as “human computers” at NASA during the Space Race. The women endured racial discrimination and gender barriers, often receiving little or no credit for their extraordinary contributions. These themes prompt discussions about a variety of unique issues facing Books@Work participants in the workplace.
At Books@Work, we find books and short stories that generate meaningful discussion and encourage colleagues to share more of themselves. As one participant shared, a good book “makes it easier to break down people’s issues and have difficult conversations, because it’s hidden behind the cloak of the material.”
For many groups, a “good book” is a novel with dynamic characters and ethical dilemmas. For others, it might be a nonfiction narrative like Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, which often resonates with engineers and manufacturing employees. But some books, like James McBride’s memoir The Color of Water, find success and provoke powerful discussions with groups across the board.
What is the book about?
What do Books@Work participants read? The short answer: books, short stories, plays and more. Rich narratives – from literary fiction to memoirs – introduce us to new ideas, build genuine connections and foster more inclusive workplaces and communities. Before each program begins, we survey participants for their preferences, consult with professors and draw upon the knowledge and experience of Books@Work staff to choose the readings.
While some groups prefer books, others stick to one short story per session. Over time, we’ve found that certain short stories succeed with a wide variety of groups – executive leadership teams, police officers, healthcare workers and veterans alike.
One particularly successful Books@Work story is Chinua Achebe’s “Dead Men’s Path,” the tale of young, energetic Michael Obi, who takes a new role as headmaster of a Nigerian school in 1949.
At Books@Work, we use literature to generate meaningful conversation, bridge divides and encourage human connection. This Thanksgiving week, we invite you to grab a friend or family member to read and discuss O. Henry’s classic story “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen” together.