I never would have predicted that my favorite book of 2017 would be a memoir about teaching The Odyssey. Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic was the perfect combination of a compelling personal story, an interpretive, accessible guide to one of history’s most famous works of literature and a probing reflection on human relationships. The book has opened up many new insights for me about literature and social science and my own experiences in the world.
Early in the book, I learned for the first time about a classical literary technique called ring composition, which was used before writing was even invented. The storyteller begins his tale “only to pause and loop back to some earlier moment that helps explain an aspect of the story he’s telling – a bit of personal or family history, say – and afterward might even loop back to some earlier moment or incident . . . gradually winding his way back to the present moment.” This is the same way we engage in everyday conversation, especially when we are inspired to think creatively and expansively about a topic. Digressions don’t take us away from the conversation at hand so much as they embellish our ideas. Isn’t it true that conversational twists and turns can enrich our understanding and our interactions with each other?
Happy Friday! We’ve scoured the web for thought-provoking articles and essays for you to enjoy over the weekend.
In the Scientific American, the University of Missouri’s Director of the Master of Public Health program Lise Saffran writes on the crucial role of storytelling in searching for truth. When confronted with facts, we often filter out evidence that contradicts our cultural predispositions. But when we hear a subjective story and feel a personal and authentic connection with someone, are we more willing to override our bias?
In his recent TED Talk, Princeton professor Uri Hasson investigates what he calls “a device that can record my memories, my dreams, my ideas, and transmit them to your brain.” Drawing on his research, Hasson argues that this “game-changing technology” already exists—that it has existed for thousands of years, though we are only now learning to understand how it works.
The technology is “human communication” and, most important, “effective storytelling.”
Teaching with Books@Work has given me an exceptional opportunity to learn about myself at work. It alters my understanding of what it means to teach literature well, enhancing my appreciation for literature, as well as for the artistry of teaching.
It also, not coincidentally, demands a fair amount of humility.
We were delighted to participate in the first annual Cleveland Humanities Festival, in partnership with the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University. Supported by Ohio Humanities, the Festival hosted speakers and events around the city over a two-week period in early April. Linked by the theme “Remembering War,” the Festival sought to “engage the public in addressing some of society’s most challenging issues and pressing concerns” in partnership with the region’s major museums, educational institutions, and arts organizations. For us, the Festival provided an opportunity to bring Books@Work beyond the workplace, and use diverse narrative representations of life experience to challenge assumptions and appreciate the memories, stories, and courage of others.
What’s a story? In response to that question, many of us might think of a tale with a beginning, middle and an end, or maybe a literary classic of short fiction like Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” or Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.”
But stories exist beyond the page. They’re part of our everyday repertoire for coping with existence.
One way to define the term “story” is any attempt—written, told, or perhaps most commonly and powerfully, thought—to impose a narrative on life.
At Books@Work, we recognize (and constantly emphasize) that the opportunity for reflection with others shapes our learning and our performance. We are always learning—about our participants, our company and community partners, about the books we use to spark reflective conversation and the benefits of reading and talking together. In this spirit of self-inquiry, we’d like to take moment ourselves to look back and reflect upon what we have observed in 2015.
Over the past year, Book@Work did not slow down. On every metric, we have grown, from the number of programs (50% growth from 2014) to the number of companies, participants, books and professors (and the colleges and universities in which they teach).