5 Books that changed my life
Books and I have had a strained relationship for as long as I can remember. My older sister was an avid reader as we were all growing up, and I laid the blame for all her wacky behaviour on books, and the effect they had on her by removing her from the real world. I was quite determined that I was not going to go down the same path, so studiously avoided reading for as long as I possibly could.
In fact it was not until I was married and well into my twenties that I read my first book, cover to cover. I had started many books of course, some of them compulsorily for school, but had lost interest pretty quickly, and almost always long before the section in my right hand was smaller than the bit in my left. I was able to reconcile that by repeating the mantra that “I was about living, not reading how someone else lived.” Which for the most part worked pretty effectively.
That all changed when at 26 I was given a book for Christmas by a family friend and as much to escape the misery of the recent death of my wonderful father in law, as any other good literary reason, opened it up with the intent of getting lost or being devoured.
I am sure Bryce Courtenay could not have imagined how that one book would change the course of a life so profoundly. It did take me an eternity to read it, as my reading skills were just appalling back then. Not quite the finger across the page but not far from it either. ‘The Power of One” screamed at me from every page. it felt like Mr Courtenay was writing just for me. It was quite magical and opened doors and lit pathways, I could never have imagined were possible.
The second book is not a book at all, but rather a short story. Ray Bradbury is a prolific american writer, most famous for “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles” but so much of the brilliant work he produced had nothing to do with Science Fiction at all. “Hail and farewell” is an astonishing short story that got me thinking for the first time in a voice other than the first person. In a few short pages he was able to turn my focus inside out and gave me the chance to see a whole new way of looking at the world.
The Little Prince is one of those classics that I come back to every few years when life gets confusing. It has some wonderful guiding principles that have consistently resonated with me.
The last two powerful books are both non fiction and they resonate with me for different reasons. “Any given Team” is a wonderful treatise on how to make teams work at their best. If you have never been a part of a team, either a work team or a sports team, you have my sympathy. Team environments are extraordinarily dynamic, exciting and powerful. The very nature of working closely with people means that the forces at work are more art than science and more craft than technology and I am perfectly comfortable with that.
For anyone that is confounded by teams and the people in them, Ray McLean has developed a really down to earth, incredibly simple way of making them work better. Like all the best ideas, simple doesn’t mean easy. In fact in this case, simple can be too hard for some people. Which is one of the reasons I love this book so much.
Finally, Bounce by Matthew Syed was one of the books that made sense of a lot of disparate information, trends, observations and statistics. One of my great loves is sport, and this book laid the pathway to my better understanding of the subject. I don’t expect it will change everyone’s life. In fact if I had not been working in the field at the time it may have simply interested me rather than send bells going off all around me for weeks.
I have never been a believer in the “You can do anything you set your mind to” philosophy or view of the world. For instance it was quite clear from my primary school years that I was never going to be an astronaut, or a world champion high jumper, or win Wimbledon. Nor have I subscribed to the “you were born to do this” theory. However, I have always thought that most of us are capable of much more than we think we are capable of. Many of us are limited by our understanding of our horizons. All five books back up that thinking by resolutely showing that extraordinary things are possible if you are prepared to put in the work and engage fully in the process.
These five entries are a good illustration of the importance of timing, when it comes to reading. The right piece at the right time. That is why I would encourage people to read widely.