Books I loved this month…

for children: Tortoise and Hare

This cute little children’s book is a definite great pick for little ones AND adults who need a reminder that a) we all move at different paces and b) it’s good to slow down if you are like the “hustle culture” hare in this story. 😄

Tortoise and Hare by Susan Verde (with adorable illustrations by Jay Verde) is a lovely retelling of the fable that shows how each character approaches their lives very differently. The advantages and disadvantages of each approach are highlighted subtly at first and contrasted in the race, where each discovers what they have missed by being too fast or slow. “…sometimes it’s good to be fast, and sometimes it’s good to be slow – but mostly, it’s good to have a friend to help you find the balance.” is the reminder that we we each have gifts that shine when we connect with others.

The book even includes a few yoga poses that are ideal for children to explore! Highly recommended.

a novel: The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda

If you see me today and I look exhausted, it’s because I was awake until midnight finishing this compelling mystery. The story even made it into my dreams over the last week, my mind filled with mountain trails, disappearances and small-town suspicions. There were twists that I never anticipated as the book came to a close and it was impossible to put down.

Megan Miranda has written several bestselling thrillers including Such a Quiet Place and the upcoming The Only Survivors. The Last to Vanish is a creepy tale of a small mountain town and the mysterious disappearances of 7 visitors over the last twenty-five years. The main character, Abby, is still considered an ‘outsider’ in Cutter’s Falls despite having lived in town for ten years. When the brother of the man who most recently vanished arrives at the Inn where Abby works, his digging for answers unravels secrets, suspicions, and the unexpected.

I have always been fascinated with disappearances like the case of Paula Welden, a college student who disappeared in 1946 on a hike in Vermont*, or the strange disappearance of Joan Risch, a 1960s stay at home mother in Massachusetts. Risch vanished while her young daughter was playing at a neighbour’s home and her toddler son was asleep in his crib. I’m not sure why these particular cases haunt me…it may be that they were both women at times in their lives where they had so much to live for. In both cases, there were clues but nothing definitive enough to say what had happened or give any closure for their families.

I think that is what I loved the most about Miranda’s novel. She did an excellent job of capturing the trauma that remains when a disappearance is left unsolved. The residents of Cutter’s Pass feel the anxiety and weight of being the last stop for the missing with their town being described, sensationally, as the “most dangerous town in North Carolina.” There is a profound sadness that exists for families of those who go missing, which is so often lost when the cases become larger than life. We forget that each missing person is so much more than the images that are splashed across posters and news stories, or the fragments of what physical evidence is left behind. I appreciated that there was a sensitivity in how Miranda wrote about the fictional disappearances.

*her disappearance led to the creation of the Vermont State Police.

The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda

Nonfiction: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

SoulBody Barre instructors were encouraged to read this book in March and I’m so happy to have been introduced to this book! The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups outlines the practical skills that create groups that can do amazing things and that people WANT to be part of. The book opens with an interesting experiment where various groups attempted to build the tallest tower from materials like marshmallows, spaghetti and masking tape. In almost every version of the experiment, groups of kindergarten children beat out lawyers, CEOs and business students. They worked efficiently, experimented, and did not compete against one another within the group. Coyle uses this example to launch into what he believes are the important skills that create successful groups:

  • building a safe environment where people feel they belong
  • sharing vulnerability at every level of the group
  • establishing a shared purpose

The examples in the book are fascinating, from a exploration of how the legendary Christmas Day truce during WWI was built over weeks of “shared belonging cues” (Chapter 3) to how the CEO of Zappos designed the home office building to maximize “collisionable hours” where staff could bump into one another and connect. I had to share the Chapter about San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich with my husband because he loves inspirational sports stories. In the Chapter, Coyle describes how Popovich creates a sense of community within players through the cues that essentially say – ‘you are part of this group’, ‘this group is special, we have high standards here’ and ‘I believe you can reach those standards.’

I had so many observations that apply to both fitness and library work (I’m still reflecting on many of these!):

  • feeling safe – it surprised me just how important feeling safe is in terms of people feeling like they belong AND how constant reminders of safety are required. According to Coyle, successful groups have “profuse” eye contact, physical touch (handshakes, hugs), intensive listening, and humour. As Coyle writes: “Spending time inside these groups was almost physically addictive.” (8). In terms of fitness, this made me reflect on how to make all participants feel they belong, whether through touch or listening…I think we all do this instinctively but, again, maybe not as OFTEN as constantly!
  • belonging – Coyle writes that belonging needs to be reinforced over and over again…”a flame that needs to be continually fed by signals of safe connection.” (26). He uses the example of how Google defeated AdWords in the early days of online advertising, likely because of the environment at Google where every employee felt they could tackle a problem, even if it was not a part of their role in the company. This skill resonated with me when it comes to library teaching…an approach where learning research skills is a shared endeavour where we tackle a problem as a team.
  • vulnerability – leaders who don’t cover their weaknesses, admit failure, seek help, and dive into the trenches (e.g. like the All Black rugby team leaders who do the menial work (“sweeping the sheds”) to foster the ethic of teamwork. After this section, I thought about how difficult it is to show our weaknesses in academia – there’s a sense that we should know everything about research or be the “experts”. This has changed a bit for the better over the last few years but it’s still hard to show vulnerability – at least for me.
  • shared purpose – Coyle writes that successful groups have a shared purpose that is clear (“be 10x as clear about your priorities as you think you should be”), visible (as a reminder), and that measuring success should relate to the purpose (what really matters). In group fitness, I could imagine this being applied when we tell participants why we do an exercise or a type of class, being clear about expectations, and having a personal mission statement or teaching philosophy.

The Culture Code has practical applications that anyone can use to connect better with others and build community at a workplace, in a classroom or even a group fitness class!

One thing I did reflect upon a lot through the book, which was written pre-COVID, is how remote work has removed so many of the methods for cohesion successful groups use. It’s so much harder to feel comfortable giving hugs or having a spontaneous coffee with a colleague. There’s a distance that seems difficult to overcome, even now.

What are your thoughts? Have you read any of these books or another great one that you can share? Please comment below!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: