“Learning to Respect One Another’s Point of View”: A Books@Work Participant Interview

“Learning to Respect One Another’s Point of View”: A Books@Work Participant Interview

Recently, I spoke with Gail Monahan, a Books@Work participant, about her experience in our programs. Gail is a Senior Applications Engineer at Fairbanks Morse Engine, an Enpro Industries company. Fairbanks Morse Engine has been a valued Books@Work partner since we first began offering seminars in their Beloit, Wisconsin facility in 2013. 

How long have you been participating in Books@Work?

Since it was first offered – more than two years. I was in the first group it was offered to at Fairbanks Morse Engine, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

What do you think about the books you’ve read?

Gail MonahanWe don’t always read the books I would have picked first, but I’m always happy with the books we read. My very first Books@Work book was Plato’s Dialogues, about Socrates. I had never taken philosophy, and reading Dialogues was a good stretch for me and for the whole group. I think a lot of people in the group weren’t used to sharing their ideas so openly. But I enjoyed it, and I learned something I didn’t know.

Do you have any favorites?

Oliver Sacks – An Anthropologist on Mars. I really enjoyed his essays on neuroscience. It was interesting to learn about the brain and how everyone has a different brain. At the time I was reading it, my daughter was taking AP psychology and she was talking about what she was learning – they had read some of Oliver Sacks’ books, too, and we were able to talk about them together.

I also would never have selected two graphic novels we read – Asterios Polyp and Through the Woods – but I did enjoy them once the professor had us notice how the style of drawings changed as each character was highlighted in each section. The author used different colors, also, to change moods. At first I was so focused on just reading the text, that I failed to notice these things until they were pointed out.

As an engineer, do you find anything especially valuable about reading and discussing literature with colleagues?

Well, we’re all engineers with engineering degrees. In college, I didn’t have many electives to take about things that interested me – maybe 9 or 12 credits in the humanities. Everything was a required class. As a group, we never had a chance to explore the other subjects that might have interested us in school. Books@Work allows us to do that – to interact with liberal arts professors, giving us that educational piece that we kind of missed out on. For a lot of people, too, it’s nice to be exposed to Beloit College, where our professors come from. It’s a top-notch liberal arts college near our facility, and a treasure. The professors are very educated people and have a lot to offer us in the way of new experiences.

To that end, I’ve also enjoyed the exposure to different cultures Books@Work has offered. The Chinese and Japanese literature that we read was very insightful. They weren’t necessarily my favorites, but I like to try new things, and the professors were able to take us deep into the cultural aspects of the literature and how the cultures are different from ours.

And then, I’ve enjoyed seeing how people are able to pull things out and notice what others don’t. When it was a group of all engineers, there were people I hadn’t worked with and I was surprised by their insights and comments.

How does the Books@Work reading differ from your everyday reading?

Reading for Books@Work gives me the opportunity to read fiction – which I love but don’t let myself read too often because I can’t put it down. The Dog Stars was one of the Books@Work books I finished right away; I got hooked on whether the two main characters were going to end up together. That’s why I try to stay away from fiction when I’m reading on my own. I’ve got to know what happens, and then everything else doesn’t get done.

My day-to-day reading is pretty much done only at bedtime, and often is a too-effective means of getting to sleep. It differs from my Books@Work reading in that, with Books@Work, we have assigned chapters to finish, and that puts a little more pressure on finding time to read – which is good. As a person who claims to like reading, I should carve out additional reading times in the week. I still have a book waiting in line that my daughter bought me for Christmas, And So it Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles J. Shields. She bought it because I mentioned to her that we read Slaughterhouse Five in Books@Work.

What about the opportunity to discuss literature with others – what does that give you?

I have three daughters and they’ll recommend books. It’s a great resource to read a book that they have read or are reading. It makes you feel closer to your friends and family, sharing a book.

I guess that’s what we’re doing at work, too: getting to know each other on a different level, learning to respect one another’s point of view. Plus I think it just helps you read, if reading is something you want to do but have trouble making time for – it gives you a reason to read.

What would you tell someone who was thinking of trying out Books@Work?

I would be truthful and say that it can be uncomfortable at first, because it’s something you aren’t used to. But you can just sit and listen to everyone else. And it’s a neat experience, to share, once you get comfortable. If you’ve never been part of a discussion group, you should definitely try it.

Image: Lyubov Popova, Painterly Architectonic, 1918, [Public Domain] via Wikiart.org

Further Reading

Stories That Resonate: Sharing Literature With Veterans
For a More Creative Workplace: Foster Collaboration and Respectful Engagement
Comparing Points of View: A Reading Journey

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Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Hill is the Project Director, NEH for All at the National Humanities Alliance and former member of the Books@Work team.