It’s summer time! Time to download a few new novels onto your E-Reader for the next plane ride or pool-side hour.

In Erika Anderson’s recent Forbes piece, she cites some research suggesting that fiction-reading is not just for pleasure – that it could impact us at a deeper level as business leaders: “It seems that reading fiction improves your sensitivity to and appreciation of complex human situations; it provides a richer ‘toolkit’ of understanding from which to pull when making decisions and building relationships. And as our business lives get more complex, faster-paced, less hierarchical and more dependent upon our ability to build support with those around us – that kind of toolkit becomes ever more critical to our success.”

This was great news for us here at ThinkGrowth. We all love a good novel as a change of pace from the Wall Street Journal and our typical business-related non-fiction reading. Here is our “recommended summer reading list,” which is really just a compilation of books we have loved – old and new – that have shaped our thinking about growth and relating to others, and have impacted us as leaders.


ThinkGrowth’s Favorite Novels

The Power of One
Bryce Courtenay’s classic is a story of a South African boy named Peekay, who goes through many hardships as he pursues his life-long dream of becoming the welterweight boxing champion of the world. Reading this early in my career awakened me to the importance of connecting with others, especially those with varying points of view and background, while never losing your own true purpose. Peekay’s focus on a single breakthrough goal reminds me that the only circumstances that can sway me from my goal are the ones I give credence to.

The Post-Birthday World
Lionel Shriver explores the consequences of a single choice by essentially writing two novels in one, in which you follow the years following one night’s decision by Irina, a Russian-American woman living in England. Each chapter plays out the events resulting from one choice, followed by the same chapter playing out the opposing choice. I love it because it doesn’t suggest one choice is better than the other – and don’t we all face choices we must make in business where there is no one “right” way? – but it does demonstrate the power of a choice, and our power to be the owner of the choices we make.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins
If you want a quick read, or if you have reading-age kids to join you, you might pick up this young adult novel by Scott O’Dell. It follows 17 years in the life of Karana, a young native American girl who is stranded on an island without a single other human being. It’s a beautiful story of survival. It changed me forever in reading it as a young adult, and I go back to it every now and then to remember the power of the human will to triumph. It also taps into her inner dialogue, and can teach us all about tuning in to the voice within for clues to success that already lie within us.

Franny & Zooey
J.D. Salinger’s combo of a short story (Franny) and a novella (Zooey) takes you on a modern day quest for enlightenment. The characters are one of a kind, yet somehow no different that you and me. The dialogue is superb and the eastern philosophical themes provoke thinking as these two young Manhattanites in the late 1950s try to sort out their purpose in life. This book resonated with me because while I can identify with all the criticism of people and western culture that come up I could also identify with the case Zooey builds for not buying them. Franny & Zooey addresses what it means to be an authentic human being and illustrates what unconditionally standing for someone’s greatness can look like.

Ender’s Game
Science fiction novel Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, brings alive a future world where Earth has been attacked by a far-away race called the Buggers, and world leaders rush to figure out how to defend the planet. The gifted Ender Wiggin is one of many young boys chosen to train in the Battle School, where the trainers throw him into every impossible situation and training-game imaginable. Although scared and lonely, he thrives in the challenging environment using creativity and unexpected tactics, all the time bonding with those around him. The book leaves the reader with a glimpse of how the game of life can be played and won, and how impossible problems are no match for human intention.

Through the Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll’s classic follows Alice into a world of imagination, where “reality” is not what we think and everything is seen from a different perspective. After placing her hands on a mirror, she discovers that there is a whole other world on the other side. For children and adults alike, enjoy reading yourself into an alternate reality.

Gregory David Roberts’ account, largely based on his own life, tells the heart-breaking tale of a bank robber and heroin addict who flees his native Australia after escaping prison for the hectic slums of Bombay. Though the circumstances of this man’s life are incredibly difficult, reading it left me present to the possibility that there could be a whole new future around each turn in the road if you stay open. It’s also remarkable to read the almost-1000-page novel, knowing that Roberts wrote it from his prison cell three times after prison guards destroyed the first two versions.

Sloppy Firsts
This is Megan McCafferty’s sharp, funny and sometimes heartbreaking coming-of-age story about Jessica Darling, a teenager trying to find herself and navigate high school after her best friend moves away. Told from Jessica’s perspective, it colorfully recreates many of the awkward experiences we have all faced in our formative years. Another reinforcement that in fact, in our very human experiences, we are never alone.

Maniac Magee
This young adult novel explores themes of racism and social boundaries through the eyes of Jeffery “Maniac” Magee, an orphaned boy who finds himself attempting to integrate into a predominately African-American neighborhood in the time of racial segregation. Aside from being a touching story, the book showed me as a young adult how much more we can learn and appreciate by being willing to challenge our own pre-conceived notions and biases.