There is something about the power of a book. Not every book. Just some books. Every so often you come across one that opens your eyes, stirs your emotions, rings true—to your soul.
I was 27 years old, working in Manhattan as a young vice president of an investment banking firm. It was “the place to be” in the 1980s, where all the action was, apparently. I was doing a lot of international travel and had time to crack open a book every so often. Tracy Kidder’s book House caught my eye—and, within days, changed my life.
Kidder is a remarkable author. He decides on a topic of interest, and then spends, in this case, a year, shadowing the subjects of his work. In House, he followed a young couple, a three man carpentry crew, and a young architect as they came together in Amherst, Massachusetts to build a home. He captured their discussions in designing and imagining, the excitement and hope each felt, the tensions and stresses between and amongst and, most of all, for me, the beauty and splendor of building. I could smell the wood, hear the hammers, and visualize the shapes and form as the house came together. I was profoundly moved.
During my high school and college years, I had been a carpenter, painter, lawn cutter, leaf-raker, farm hand, and more. As I found my way through the pages of House, I realized how much I missed the sense of accomplishment, the physicality, the “goal completed” nature of my younger working years. I finished the book and…gave my two weeks’ notice, a decision that changed my life in ways I could never have imagined.
My wife and I moved to Maine and bought a small piece of land. We designed a modest home, and I hired a three man carpentry crew—and went to work for them as their “gopher,” as they had me “go for this” and “go for that” throughout the building process. I eventually went out on my own and built for the next three years, before becoming a teacher and coach—and finding my ultimate calling in education.
How lucky I was that Mr. Kidder took the time to write. How important it is that each of us within the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School community—students, faculty, parents, alumni—remain open to exploring the plethora of literary works within our grasp. Doing so can enrich, guide, and change one’s life and send you in directions you may never have even begun to imagine.
Nick Stoneman is President of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, an Episcopal boarding and day school in Faribault, Minnesota serving students in grades 6–12. Read more of Nick’s posts on Reflections: The President’s Blog.