What Are You Reading? Part 7

by John Shankman

Over the next week for a sponsored project on behalf of Byliner, The Billfold’s Mike Dang and our publisher John Shankman will be selecting stories from the Byliner platform and chatting about them.


Mike: Hey John, how are things?

John: Miiiikkkkeeeyyyyyyyyyyyyy
Things are excellent.
I gotta tell you too– I wasn’t feeling all that plugged in, but there’s nothing like a great read while listening to some sweet tunes to suck you into the web.

Mike: Haha
What’ve you been reading?

John: Well, it was a short essay, but every sentence packed a punch. And it spanned decades extremely well.
I actually dove into it because of the title without looking at the author’s name and within the first couple of paragraphs I was thinking to myself, I wonder who wrote this.

Mike: Haha, really?

John: yah
the story is a reflection on the author’s time in the peace corps in the sixties
he was one of first peace corps members to go abroad. he went because he was looking for experiences outside of his home to discover more about life. The name of the story is The Lesson of My Life which is no little declaration and why, i suppose, i was attracted to it– i needed to know the lesson of life

Mike: Hmm! I don’t know who the author is. Who did it end up being?

John: the author is Paul Theroux

Mike: Ahhh. Travel writer.

John: indeed.

Mike: Also related to Justin Theroux I think?

John: ha
i didnt even think of that
is that who jen aniston dates?

Mike: Haha, yes. He’s a screenwriter
Okay, I just Googled it and yes, they are related.

John: ah very nice
illustrious family

Mike: Anyway, tell me some lessons!
I mean, with a title like that…

John: well, he wrote this piece in 2009 in response to Obama’s call to public service–
the general idea is supporting Obama’s message to get out outside of your comfort zone and help people as much as possible. Thoreaux’s twist though is that you’ll be surprised at the results– because the person most affected by your help won’t be the people you’re helping, it’ll be yourself. Sort of along the lines of only experience can transform us into, for lack of a better word, more experienced people.

Mike: So it’s pro public service, pro Peace Corps?
Which I’m guessing was different in the ’60s than it is today.

John: Yah its definitely a peace [editor’s note: no pun intended, typo] that I’m pretty sure is meant to support obama’s call to action in 2009. there’s an anecdote in there about how the Obama and Thoureaux met in Hawaii and had a conversation and hit it off.

Mike: What was your favorite part of the story?

John: It was well written. Read like a dream. Or a hot knife cutting through butter.
The piece evokes a lot of thoughts– which I suppose is what good reading should do.

Mike: What is the lesson of your life, John?

John: Crush it bro. Duh.

Interested in reading more? Byliner has thousands of great fiction and nonfiction stories. Check it out here.