I was recently inspired by Daniel R. Murphy’s post entitled, “A Leader’s Library.” He
writes of great leaders and the habits and disciplines they share that have helped them
develop their leadership skills. The one common thread, beyond any particular skill, is that each of them is an avid reader.
Murphy writes that each of these CEO’s knows that if they want to not only succeed but leave an indelible mark in the world, they need to expand their knowledge base and that expansion, that program of continuous learning, is linked directly with reading books. He concludes that “a reader’s library can be a source of thought and action, the foundation of an otherwise unforeseen contribution.”
Reflecting on Murphy’s post, I was drawn back to my days as a grad student in the English Department at UBC (my thesis, for those who feign interest, focused on the transition from Victorian to Modern British Fiction and centered on a defense of Arnold Bennett against “attacks” from Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group). I thought of the academic and personal thrill that came from reading a novel, twice: the first at an emotional/guttural level and the second with an analytical/critical eye. I smiled as I remembered the many meandering discussions I used to have around the literature I was reading and how this engagement both thrilled and enlightened. And then I stopped and thought of my MA Advisor, John Doheny, who started it off for me with two essays from D.H. Lawrence:
The novel is a perfect medium for revealing to s the changing rainbow of our living relationships. The novel can help us to live, as nothing else can; no didactic Scripture, anyhow (“Morality and the Novel”).
The novel is the one bright book of life. Books are not life. They are only tremulations on the ether. But the novel as a tremulation can make the whole man alive tremble . . . The novel is the book of life (“Why the Novel Matters”).
I still read a lot of fiction and I believe that many of the leadership qualities I have developed come from the honest self-reflection that results from an intimacy with these texts. Like Daniel R. Murphy, I believe that “the more you read the more you know. The more you know the more valuable you are to the market place”. I also believe that the ability to connect, to empathize, to mediate and to productively initiate new ways of doing are borne from the trembling that comes from the tremulations.
And then, thanks to Carrie Gelson, it came to me:
Why am I not sharing my reading life with my students, my community? Why am I not writing about literature that impacts me and, to borrow from Johnny Bevacqua, helps me “figure it out.”
So, what I am about to embark on is the 52 in 52: one book a week to be shared with all those who wish to follow along.
There really isn’t anything of importance except maybe who gets handed your heart and what they do with it.
So Willy Blunt profoundly states to Judith Whitman. To Be Sung Underwater is their love story. They meet growing up in Nebraska, Judith goes away to attend Stanford and their lives take separate paths. However, they never stop secretly thinking about one another. What could easily become a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back melodrama is skillfully transformed by Tom McNeal into a beautifully controlled piece of narrative with wonderful character development.
The novel ends with a sequence of moving scenes wherein Judith reaches back into her past and after 26 years travels back to Nebraska to reunite with Willy, the man who never forgot her. Willy tells her, “For you I was a chapter – a good chapter, maybe, or even your favourite chapter… and for me, you were the book.” Only after Willy dies does Judith acknowledge that for her, “he had been the most of the book, but she had been too careless or self-absorbed or oblivious to know it, and it was too late to change the ending.”
In doing a masterful job alternating the present with the past, McNeal, through Judith and Willy, led me to enter into a series reflections that captured the world of my own choices and still, even now, has me appreciating the joys in my life and pondering the regrets of what might have been. When a work of fiction can do all of this, it’s worth a recommendation!