You are what you read – I

“What books have changed how you think?”  The one who asks me this sort of question asked me this the other day.

I don’t know if it’s a meme or not, but if it isn’t out there it damn well should be, so I’m asking Anticant, Charlotte, Hairy Farmer Family, Teuchter, Reed, SoRB, Sol, the Singing Librarian, whether they would like to consider this one, and share with us the books that have changed how and what they think.  It’s an arduous process and an impertinent request, and I know that each of you are busy or pressured at the moment, so please ignore it if it’s not appropriate.  And of course, anyone else who feels like it is more than welcome too.

Anyway, I asked him if he meant how (as in processes) or what (as in content) and he said “both really”.  But the whole list is too long to bore you with in one session, so I’m splitting it in to two.   I’ve listed the books in the order I read them.

Books that have changed how I think

Games People Play – Eric Berne – the whats, whys and hows of how we get stuck with the same old patterns of behaviour with strangers and with our nearest and dearest.   My Ma read this when I was in my teens and promptly started playing more games rather then fewer.  However after thirty or so years of trying, I am now reasonably good at not playing games, though not perfect by any means.  This definitely changed my thinking processes, and it is a book I would recommend anyone to read today.

The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula le Guin – I’m putting this in the “how” list rather than the “what” list because even though they are fantasies, these books helped me accept that reality isn’t cosy and reduced the amount of denial and surprise I go through.  I still get shocked, but I’m less frequently surprised.  Their impact has lingered and deepened over the years; Le Guin is one of the least self-indulgent writers I have ever read, and I guess these books introduced me to Kantian ideas about about responsibility, obligation and duty, you do what you do because that’s what you should do.  I’m not really a Kantean at all but I try to out-stare reality even if it’s always me who blinks first and looks away.

Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit – Adelle Davis – Davies points out that the devil is in the detail, when she calls one of her chapters “Which apricot, grown where?” in reference to the statement “apricots are a good source of Vitamin A”.  The book itself is a collection of rather dated nutritional advice that I’d hesitate to recommend.  However those four words kicked off a professional lifetime of listening out for what’s not said and poking around for data that isn’t there.  It’s a phrase that definitely honed my thinking tools.

How to Master the Art of Selling – Tom Hopkins – The simplest and most accessible introduction to questions that I’ve come across, whether you want to influence people or discover things.

The Phoenix Seminar – Brian Tracey – a set of tapes and not a book, but this self-help course has given me the tools I use when I have to pick myself up, dust myself down, and start all over again.  I still occasionally listen to these tapes even if I’m more sceptical about some of his approaches than I was at the time.  There is a lot of sense here, and some powerful techniques.

NLP for Lazy Learning – Diana Beaver – I’ve undertaken various forms of NLP training and this was the book that introduced me to NLP in the first place.  I feel very conflicted about NLP: it is cultish, anecdotal and subjective and everything I dislike with my critical thinking head on.  But on the other hand NLP techniques have helped me learn presentation and public speaking, given me a whole bunch of linguistic tools, and taught me a lot of techniques I use at work in problem-solving and analysis.   Diana Beaver is as clear-eyed and un-cultish as you would ever want, and this is a grounded and sane introduction to NLP.   It’s wholesome and healthy even if it might become a gateway drug.

The British Medical Journal – Yeah, I know the BMJ’s not a book, you know the BMJ’s not a book, let’s move on from that, shall we?  This is the first scientific journal I’ve read regularly, if intermittently, and it encouraged me in the habit that Ms Davis started of prodding information to see what it was made of and of going to the sources.  It’s also a journal for generalists and is full of really ikky pictures.  The ones of dental abcesses so bad they’d worn right through the cheek were particularly gross.

Eating Less – Gillian Riley – I’ve written this up elsewhere, but this book and Riley’s weekend course have helped me tackle my addictive eating.  This book has changed how I think in a very literal way by tackling thoughts and habits right there where they occur, in the well-worn paths my synapses created in my brain.  I strongly recommend this book if it is relevant to you.

The Tiger that Isn’t – Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot – an accessible introduction to how numbers are misreported by journalists and turned into lies by politicians.   This book has given me tools to help with my habit of prodding statistics to see what gives.  I’m not sure if its influence will last with me, but I certainly recommend it right now.

So we have the book that taught me how to be honest in my dealings with people,  a set of tapes that helped me manage my emotions and the book tthat’s helping me control my addiction to food.   On the thinking side, there are the books that taught me reality’s real, several that turned my insatiable curiousity into a tool, one that started me on a journey which enriched my linguistic and analysis skills, and one that I’m using to hone my numeracy.


15 responses to “You are what you read – I

  1. I’ll have a think about it. I’m actually not sure that I can name many – I’m not sure that I “use books that way”. But still, there could be something to dig out. Interesting idea, surely.

    Now, “pick myself up, dust myself down, and start all over again” – was that a quote (as in Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields “Pick myself up” that sits nicely in my Diana Krall collection) or just one of these standard sayings? 😉

  2. There was a ‘meme’ on this topic doing the rounds a while ago, and I have posted about some of my favourite books in Anticant’s Burrow. However, here goes:

    For unforgettable fiction, a lifelong companion since childhood has been Dumas’ THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, a riveting tale of obsessive revenge, peopled with a huge cast of memorable characters and a tapestry of interwoven plots.

    For a startling [for its time] personal declaration of pantheism/atheism, Richard Jefferies’ THE STORY OF MY HEART.

    For a convincing statement of the basic liberal philosophy that the State exists for the individual, and not vice-versa, J.S Mill’s ON LIBERTY.

    For a thorough scrutiny [and, in my, view successful demolition] of the body/mind dualistic fallacy, George Lakoff and Mark JOHNSON’S PHILOSOPHY IN THE FLESH: THE EMBODIED MIND AND ITS CHALLENGE TO WESTERN THOUGHT.

    For a powerful portrait of a mind diseased by Calvinist obsessions, James Hogg’s PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER.

    For the most convincing psychological model, Eric Berne’s WHAT DO YOU SAY AFTER YOU SAY HELLO?

    For the best modern fairy tales [for adults as well as children], George MacDonald’s COMPLETE FAIRY TALES.

    For a deliciously cynical look at the world of his day [and ours], Ambrose Bierce’s THE ENLARGED DEVIL’S DICTIONARY.

  3. I shall certainly have to think hard about this one. I’ve read so many books, and surely there must be a number among them that have changed the way I think, but I’m not consciously aware of many. Much cogitation is called for, I think.

    Incidentally, Anticant, Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary is one of my favourite books for dipping in to – it is fascinating and makes me smile.

  4. Aphra, I agree with you about Ursula Le Guin. Her Earthsea books are head and shoulders above Tolkien’s over-elaborate structures, IMHO.

    NLP isn’t my bag – maybe I didn’t have an experienced enough trainer? Hadn’t heard of the Tracey tapes, which sound interesting.

  5. Interesting question. There aren’t many books I read twice, but here are a few of them;

    The Prime of Miss Brodie – all about how people get put in boxes and how hard it is to break out of them. a study in manipulation

    The Inner Game of Music – changed the way I taught and learned music

    A Man For All Seasons – to me, the character of Richard Rich and how he is led step by step, from a fairly decent chap, to betraying his friends was a lesson for me, and taught me to watch out for people trying to make me do that.

    McGonagall’s best poems (if there are any). Magnificently bad poetry from Scotland’s other national bard. My favorite line ‘Alas! Lord and Lady Dalhousie are dead and buried at last/Which has caused many of us to feel a little downcast.’

    Loved ‘Confessions of a justified Sinner’ Wonderful dark Scots writing with a real whiff of sulpher about it.

  6. My favourite McGonagall lines are

    “Along the wires the electric message came
    He is no better, he is much the same.”

  7. not to mention the triple extension engines/from which the workers receive many singeings..

  8. Crikey, where to start? In no particular order:

    Neuromancer The first time sf appeared cool. It wasn’t about dispassionate geniuses in spaceships in the far future, it was about denim and leather-wearing smalltime crooks in the shabby underworld behind the bright lights of the day after tomorrow. Aside from its now anachronistic mentions of Soviets, it’s as startlingly prophetic seeming as ever, 25 years after it was written. If anything, some of its predictions seem conservative, placed as they are, apparently near the end of the 21st century. Others, including the vibrant orbital culture and functioning AI, sadly seem as far away as ever. Without this book, it is nigh-on inconceivable there’d be any such movie as “The Matrix”.

    Evolution Part of the Life (as in Time/Life magazine) Nature Library. Used as a picture book before I could read, and as dip in reading as soon as I could identify words, it described the origins of life on this planet so clearly and engagingly I kept coming back to it. More than any other, I can credit this book for allowing me, as a five year old, on hearing a teacher at school tell the story of the book of Genesis, to think “Yeah, but you don’t REALLY BELIEVE that, surely?”.

    Batman: The Dark Knight Returns The first ‘graphic novel’ I read, which means it was the gateway to Sandman, Watchmen and many other delights. Made me (and many others) think it was OK for a grownup to read a comic book. This book rescued the image of Batman in popular culture from its association of “Biff, Pow, SOCK!!!” and Adam West, and pretty directly paved the way for Tim Burton’s Batman. It’s gratifying that finally, with Chris Nolan’s latest two movies, we are finally getting the Batman we deserve.

    The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy A density of ideas, a complexity of satire and a sheer delight in language untouched by anyone since. I read it so many times that for many years you could read me a single line, and I’d be able to pick up and quote, word for word, the next page or two, or however many you wanted until you got bored and made me shut up. It made me carry a towel wherever I went, and made me overly critical of other books that weren’t as good.

    The Culture i.e. the many novels set there by Iain M. Banks. The only fictional universe in which I have yearned to live. Also caused me to write my own sf story in response to a challenge from a friend, who told me to write a story about science vs. religion, but from a neutral standpoint. Not sure if I succeeded.

    Snow Crash and The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Sf and speculative psychology, respectively, although the former is based heavily on the latter.

    Julian Jaynes had an idea – that human consciousness, our sense of our unique, internal-monologuing “self” did not arise until well AFTER the invention of writing. Prior to that, he believed humans existed in a state not unlike schizophrenia, quite literally hearing voices that directed the tasks of their lives. They interpreted these voices as gods, reincarnated ancestors, etc… and hence, religion got started. Then, when language ceased to be solely verbal/auditory, and became something you could silently write down, there was a radical reorganisation of the way human brains worked, and we became conscious as we are (most of us…) today. We hung on to the outdated concepts of gods for other reasons, and forgot how they came about. A fascinating multidisciplinary tour de force of speculation, which only frustrates because it is so fundamentally unproveable. A great idea, though, and of course of great comfort to a misanthropic atheist such as myself, as it allows me to dismiss anyone religious as merely borderline schizophrenic psychological throwbacks.

  9. Pingback: You are what you read - II « Aphra Behn - danger of eclectic shock

  10. Did this as part of a meme here I think:

    Don’t have much to add, unless I can put the Swallows and Amazon series, which predisposes me towards basic living perhaps and made Dad’s sailing obsession more palitable in my youth.

    Maybe the Women’s Room by Marilyn French which I read in the depths of my late teens early twenties indignation at injustice and which did nothing to pull me out of it. Haven’t thought about that book in years though. Gosh, was I cross. I think it wasn’t until I read the Humanity book and the Gulag book on my original list that the shift to becoming more interested in why and subsequently what to do to avoid it all really coalesed. Or perhaps I just got old.

  11. Still cogitating, haven’t forgotten!

  12. Ditto. I’m finding it surprisingly hard to pinpoint where bits of thinking, ideas etc came from.

  13. Ummmm.. can I just say… STILL cogitating?! Have discovered that lengthy blog post, avec pictures, will be required to do it justice.

  14. Pingback: The Proud HFF Motto: Nunquam Paratus. II « The Hairy Farmer Family

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