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?
Man is a storytelling animal—we tell stories to preserve our past, record our legacy, and to teach our children. And we have done so in writing at least since the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2100 BC). By using high quality stories about the human condition, Books@Work gives our participants a lens through which to examine the whole of human behavior, in ways that provide for rich and relevant conversations. We know that when we read narrative literature, we identify with characters and reflect on their relationships. We see ourselves in the stories of others and we share our stories.
This is why we don’t read business or self-help books: they tell people how to behave rather than provide an opportunity to explore and learn about themselves and each other.