By Monty Hagler
In a world of new routines, I have defaulted to extra-long morning walks with my dogs, Nigel and Nina, in lieu of swimming, weights and elliptical machines. We typically make our way in pre-dawn hours to the beautiful Bennett College campus. The dogs run free on the grassy quad while I stick to the concrete paths (honoring the tradition that Bennett Belles do not take shortcuts) listening to audiobooks, something I cannot do when I swim and choose not to do when working out indoors.
As I have written before, I read less and less at night for pleasure because my old eyes are tired at the end of a day filled with reading for work. Hence the unfinished copy of The Overstory and the feeble progress re-reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Headphones and an Audible subscription meet an important need. However, when the pandemic hit, I was overambitious about how many books I could absorb. I downloaded seven books – three fiction, four non-fiction – and listened to them at 1.5 times speed in no particular order or consistency. I do not recommend this approach.
The non-fiction listening held up better than fiction listening for mentally re-engaging after going days or weeks between chapters. I highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear (he also has a great newsletter) for strategies on small steps for remarkable self-improvement. Since high school, I have believed that radical life-changing moments are few and far between, but small everyday choices contribute to who, where and what we become. If I can practice just 10 percent of what I learned in Atomic Habits, I will be better off for it.
Other non-fiction listens were Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell and The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. In a nutshell, Isaacson captures the essence (and minutia) of one of history’s most remarkable individuals; Gladwell is always entertaining and makes us look at the world through different lenses; and Johansson sheds new light on how innovation occurs when cultures, ideas and disciplines intersect.
The insights drawn by Johansson reinforced a guiding RLF principle to have staff work on accounts in different industries. Most big agencies silo people to only work in one industry sector (healthcare, financial services, energy, etc) or on just one client account. It is a highly efficient and highly profitable approach for the agency, but it does not do much to help employees grow or generate diverse ideas to benefit the client.
Unfortunately, the principles of The Medici Effect did not apply to creating a stew of fiction books every morning on my walks. I found it impossible to follow plot lines or connect with characters as I flipped back and forth between Ohio, The Three-Bodied Problem and The Once & Future King. For example, although Ohio is beautifully written, it is a non-linear plot line following four major characters across a backdrop of war, drugs, recession and disillusionment. Mix in plotlines involving mysterious Chinese physics and a hilarious retelling of stories from King Arthur, and I came home most mornings both out of breath and mentally disoriented.
As stay-at-home orders are lifted, I hope to return to my lifelong workout routines while still making time for long dog walks while absorbing new books. Less by Andrew Sean Greer is cued up and ready to go next. But I learned a lesson about focus during this pandemic. Just as I give myself permission to put down a book if I am not engaged after 35 pages, I will adopt a policy to shut off a book after an hour of listening if I am not learning, laughing or enthralled. There are far too many good books out there to explore. Many of my book selections come from recommendations from friends, co-workers and clients (shout out to John Dornan and Andrew Applegate for recommendations on two of the books on this list) and I welcome new suggestions.