Books for Your Summer Reading … and a Sixpence for Your Shoe
June 10, 2021 | By Stephen Caldwell
When it comes to putting together a summer reading plan, a Victorian-era wedding tradition can come in surprisingly handy.
In my culture, brides-to-be can expect four unique gifts on their wedding day: something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.
A clever British poet in Lancashire County apparently came up with the rhyme a century or so ago. And to be accurate, it ends with a fifth gift – “a sixpence in your shoe.” Originally, the gifts were intended to ward off an evil-eye curse that supposedly caused infertility, the spare change thrown in as symbol of financial good luck. These days, according to The Knot, the “old” represents continuity, the “new” represents hope for the future, the “borrowed” represents borrowed happiness and the “blue” represents purity, love and fidelity.
The tradition produces a nice variety of items that often turn into treasured mementos for brides, who stick them in a drawer or shoebox and pull them out when feeling nostalgic. But how does it help you plan your summer reading? By providing a model for an approach to variety that should inform your reading choices.
It’s easy to slip into a habit of reading books that all fit neatly into the same or similar categories, but a variety filter breaks us free of that pattern. It challenges us and broadens our perspectives so we can grow in unexpected ways.
So, for instance, you might commit to reading an “old” book (written before you were born), a “new” book (published within the last two years), a “borrowed” book (ask a friend) and a “blue” book (something that strengthens your soul).
You also can mix up the genres and styles. Read a non-fiction book on leadership, the latest best-selling novel, a book of poetry, a biography or autobiography, historical fiction, current events, a faith-based self-help book or how about this – a children’s book. My wife and I recently listened to the audiobook version of Heidi, a wonderful children’s novel first published in 1881 and written by Swiss author Johanna Spyri. Now my wife wants to visit the alps in search of flowers and the Alm Uncle!
You might be surprised by how much you can get from books that don’t speak to directly to your professional discipline. Heidi, for instance, will inspire you to value the world around you, to believe in positive outcomes and to treat other people with respect. It doesn’t matter what our career, those are lessons we all need.
To get you started, I reached out to several leaders in the Sam M. Walton College of Business and asked them for their recommendations. You can consider these “something borrowed”:
Brian Fugate, Supply Chain Management – “I have about eight I’m rotating through now or recently finished. Here are a few: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain; Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir by Joe Bageant; A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload by Cal Newport. Also going through Harry Potter for the first time, just finished John Grisham’s new novel Sooley (which was frustratingly good), and for some random weird reason I'm reading On Writing Well by William Zinsser and love it (I’m guessing you’ve read it a few times; apparently all good writers have?).”
Dinesh Gauri, Marketing – “Interesting read to understand the past, present (who knows about future anyways!): The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder by Peter Zeihan.”
Raja Kali, Economics – “My recommendation is A Promised Land by Barack Obama.”
Mary Lacity, Blockchain Center of Excellence – “For the past few years, I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction. These books are often told from the perspective of the voices rarely heard in our ‘official’ history. This weekend I am reading The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate. It’s based on the true story of freed slaves who were looking for their lost families after the Civil War through church bulletins that were read throughout Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma churches. There is a parallel story told about one new teacher who arrives to a rural Louisiana town in 1980s. The stories will coincide at some point, but I am only halfway through. Others in the same genre: America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie and Mr. Emerson’s Wife by Amy Brown.”
Cindy Moehring, Business Integrity Leadership Initiative – “Bad Blood by John Carreyrou – all about the rise and fall of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes. Her trial is set to start this summer. (Work-related.) The Hero Code by Admiral McRaven (US Navy, retired) – lessons learned from lives well lived. (Reading for my two sons, both of whom are recent graduates of the Naval Academy and are now young naval officers.) Grateful by Diana Butler Bass – about the practice of giving thanks. (Personal read.)”
Andy Murray, Customer Centric Leadership Initiative – “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity by David Whyte. The Amazon review says it’s about ‘reuniting the imagination with our day-to-day lives. It shows how poetry and practicality, far from being mutually exclusive, reinforce each other to give every aspect of our lives meaning and direction.’ Art and Faith: A Theology of Making by Makoto Fujimara. I met Makoto back in 2002 and his life’s work is quite inspiring. I interviewed him for an upcoming podcast. His recently published book is a refreshing look at the integration of intuition and reason. The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman, a science writer who travelled the world to learn what makes birds ‘capable of such extraordinary feats of mental prowess.’ I’m into birding now … comes with retiring, I think. Excellent book!”
Gary Peters, Accounting – “Here are a few that I’ve recently finished or am currently reading: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk; Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do by Daniel M. Cable; Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age by Sanjay Gupta; Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller.”
Matt Waller, Dean – “Fiction: Ubik by Philip K. Dick (I have enjoyed his other books, as well); Healthy Living: The Longevity Diet by Valter Longo (This is the diet I use. It is not for weight loss but for a healthy life); Work related: Give and Take by Adam Grant (This is well-written and useful); Fun: Bareboat Cruising Made Easy by the American Sailing Association (This is my third sailing book and I will be tested on these in a couple of weeks and then go for a week on a keel boat in the Pacific Northwest to get my ASA license).” (Note: Matt wouldn’t mention it, but his latest book, The Dean’s List: Leading a Modern Business School, is available for pre-order and should be in print in the next few weeks.)
As for me, right now I’m working my way through the Harry Potter series (audio versions) while also reading The Book of Man, a collection of essays gathered by William J. Bennett.
From my “something new” stack, I’d recommend leadership books written by a couple of my friends – Love Is Just Damn Good Business (2019) by Steve Farber and Transfluence: How to Lead with Transformative Influence in Today’s Climates of Change (2020) by Walt Rakowich.
Something old? How about Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl or anything by C.S. Lewis.
Looking for something that helps you sort through the craziness of current events? Them: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal by Ben Sasse is a rare book by an active politician that I’ve ever recommended.
If you’d prefer something a bit lighter for those lazy days when you are vacationing on the beach, here’s one I bought for research on a work project (pinky swear) that I find myself browsing through regularly: The Far Side Gallery 5 by Gary Larson. Pure genius.
There are books I am obligated to read for work, and I enjoy many of them. But I’ve found that mixing up the types of books I read makes a huge difference in my understanding of the world and my creative mindset. So give it a try this summer – and beyond. Maybe drop a sixpence in your shoe for good luck.