Every year I read a lot of material: novels, biographies, history, scientific and medical articles, clinical trial protocols, media releases, you name it. But there is a very small number of books that I re-read — assiduously, every single year.
Two of them are:
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Charles L. Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll)
- Winnie the Pooh, by Allan Alexander (“A. A.”) Milne
I re-read these two books each year because they are filled with snippets of information of enormous value to anyone who wishes to become a good communicator. Here’s just one of dozens — arguably hundreds — of examples:
The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. ‘Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ he asked.
‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’
Carroll, L. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chap. 12.
At first sight, of course, this is not a particularly informative piece of guidance. It can be classified as “obvious” in the extreme. But …
Think hard about this little piece of wisdom and who it was being written for. On July 4, 1862, when Dodgson first spun the tale of “Alice’s Adventures Underground” on a rowing boat on a picnic outing, Alice Pleasance Liddell was a 10-year-old child, the daughter of a highly respected academic at Oxford University, who had a vivid imagination and a tendency to show off her knowledge.
Then think hard about another quotation that had come several chapters earlier in the same book:
‘Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.
‘I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.’
‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. ‘You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’
Carroll, L. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chap. 7.
The third book is:
- The Magus, by John Fowles,
an astonishing book about failures (and successes) in communication, failures of imagination and understanding, and mistaken perceptions. I continue to believe Fowles should have won a Nobel Prize for Literature for this singular novel alone, but others don’t agree.
And now, following the highly relevant guidance of the King of Hearts, I shall stop.