September 3, 2019 / Esther Choy

Summer reading

Immersed in careers and often balancing jobs and families, busy, working parents often feel that they have little time to read, even in the summer. But if we want to be better storytellers, we need to do some summer reading, so no matter how little time we think we have, we must make time!

This is where positive multi-tasking comes in. What if you could make friends while also finding exciting new books? That’s when you join a book club.

What if your summer goal is to give your brain some breaks from work? That’s when you read something completely different from what you normally ‘have to’ read.

What if your goal is to keep challenging yourself intellectually outside of work? That’s when you read about specific topics that catch your fancy.

My team at Leadership Story Lab is made up of mostly busy, working moms with young children. We don’t have time to read. Nevertheless, nearly all of us have been reading this summer. Here’s what we read, how we did it and what we learned.

Esther Choy: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Why I Read This: Typically, I read all things storytelling, communication, leadership, neuroscience, social psychology and family enterprises, whether articles, books or journals. Even when I read titles related to a recent family history research project, I read archival materials, old newspapers and history books.

Once in a while, I just need to read something completely different, so fiction is typically the default genre. Plus, I read to fall asleep. So when I randomly discovered that The Song of Achilles somehow ended up on my Kindle, I was curious. Not a fan of Classical Greek literature, I thought the book could at least put me to sleep. But I ended up staying up night after night to finish The Song of Achilles.

The Takeaway: Most of my interest around Classical Greek literature has to do with the analysis of it, but never actually reading it. Now, I’m intrigued.

How I Feel After Reading This: First, a little sleep deprived, despite all those extra hours I thought I would get during the summer. Second, a blush from time to time: there’re unexpected salacious scenes. Third, a little addicted to Miller’s modern treatment of old classics. Now, I’m reading her second book, Circe. Wouldn’t it be nice if our audiences all find what we have to say so addictive they can’t wait to have more? For that reason alone, Miller’s storytelling craft is worth studying.

Workplace Applications: In this book, the whole story is narrated from the point of view of Patroclus, the closest companion of the famed warrior, Achilles. If you’re curious about what telling a familiar story from a different point of view can do for a story, you should definitely check it out. People in sales and marketing often toil with the question of how to tell the stories of their products and services in more interesting ways. Changing the point of view will do the trick. Best of all is if you’re able to tell the story from your customers’ point of view.

Recommended? The Song of Achilles isn’t for everyone. If you’re a “purist,” you might not appreciate Miller’s remake of the Greek classic The Iliad, her rare but occasional use of profanity, and, most important, her new take on the story from a different point of view.

Amanda Hertzler, Leadership Story Lab Social Media Manager: The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

Why I Read This: No matter what season of life I’m in, I want to continue to challenge myself to be the best person that I can be. Sometimes that means doing a lot of study to learn a new skill, sometimes that means reading something light because I need to give my brain a break. Learning about the Enneagram was interesting to me because it pointed out parts of my personality that I should be aware of in personal and professional relationships – which, ultimately, can help me work more effectively without straining myself in the process.

The Takeaway: It’s a good idea to periodically remind yourself of what you do well and what you need to work on. Both the positive and the negative sides of that perspective are important.Workplace Applications: It relates to my position in that there are aspects of my personality that affect how I relate to a team or approach deadlines. Being aware of those things can help me to work more effectively. As an individual, those personality traits will affect how I relate to the people I care about.

Recommended? Yes, because I think all of us can benefit from some self reflection, and it is a key to mining stories. It may also invite healthy discussions within your team of how you can better support one another.

Becky Talbot, Content Marketing and Research Manager: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Why I Read This: I joined a book club, for its positive multitasking benefits that Esther mentioned above. It’s allowed me to make friends after moving to a new city while also giving me reading deadlines. The 1922 novella Enchanted April was our club’s June selection.

In The Enchanted April, four women leave England to vacation in an Italian castle. When they set out, they are unhappy and stuck in lifeless routines and relationships. In Italy, beauty gradually heals them of their unhappiness and reawakens their love for life and for others.

The Takeaway: The book unexpectedly coincided with something I had been reflecting on for a few months—the question of “how are we healed?” So many of us need healing in ourselves and interpersonally, and in the U.S. we are at a time when the country’s old wounds and deep-rooted guilt cry out for a remedy. I came to the conclusion that we are healed through love. Not an easy or sentimental love, but the kind of love that isn’t afraid to face the toughest things in ourselves and others. Von Arnim’s story of women who are healed through beauty that leads them toward courageous love was a surprising and tangible illustration of what I’d been mulling over.

How I Feel After Reading This: Affirmed, hopeful.

Workplace Applications: As a writer, it’s always beautiful to me when an author can make an abstract idea concrete. I aim for that on-the-job and in my creative writing, and von Arnim did that masterfully.The book also illustrated one of the storytelling principles Leadership Story Lab teaches: an intriguing beginning. Within the first few paragraphs, readers understand one of the main characters’ needs and motivations very well. Establishing character that quickly is an art. And since authentic leadership is another of our concerns, I could draw another lesson about how the characters come to trust that the place itself will change others. Because they trust this, they do not have to turn people into projects. In the workplace, that can mean that when we trust that our workplace has the right culture, people will align with the mission and we do not have to micromanage.

Recommended? Yes. It’s a short, engaging read. And even if you can’t leave home this summer, you will feel like you’re vacationing in Italy.

Pick something that you’ve wanting and meaning to read. Your brain and your future self will say thank you very soon!

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If you want to find unexpected ways to amplify your leadership, contact us for business storytelling training! Leadership Story Lab trains and coaches managers in storytelling techniques to help them become more engaging and persuasive communicators. Whether you would like to stand out in the interview process, add punch to a presentation, or make a compelling case for a new initiative, we can help. Schedule a complimentary working session with us today!

Esther’s book, Let the Story Do the Work (published by HarperCollins Leadership), is now available!

This article originally appeared on

Esther Choy

Esther Choy founded Leadership Story Lab in 2010 to help others leverage the art of storytelling to create extraordinary opportunities.
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"This is an amazing and insightful post! I hadn’t thought of that so you broadened my perspective. I always appreciate your insight!" - Dan B.

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