“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
– Charlie “Tremendous” Jones
Boys my Boys,
Books (and now a days blogs/podcasts/YouTube Videos) will change your life for the better. One of my many hopes for you is that you are avid readers and seekers of knowledge and wisdom.
It’s been my experience that the right book at the right time can alter the course of your life and set you on a journey toward growth and self-realization.
If you read with an open mind and an open heart, your life will improve. You’ll have a richer more meaningful existence. You’ll understand yourself, the people in your life, and the world as a whole a lot better, simply because you have chosen to read.
My History with Reading
I thought it might be beneficial to hear my history with reading. And to share with you some of the books that changed my life.
Reading never came naturally to me, in fact quite the opposite. Starting in first grade I was identified as a underperformer in reading. Tested and diagnosed with a slew of learning disorders. The majority of which were tied into my struggles with reading.
I was pulled out of class weekly and given one-on-one attention. Initially I was with a group of other underperformers. However, that group dwindled as they seemed to catch up to our peers, while I continued to struggle.
After awhile the traditional help I received gave way to more nontraditional methods. I think the teachers felt lost as to how to help me actually improve. One week I was even paired up with one of the stronger readers in the class. I think they believed peer intervention would succeed where the teacher’s attempts had not.
By the end of elementary school I was placed in the “special” class. It was dominated by kids with emotional or behavioral issues. I’d continue to be in my normal classroom most of the day. But for an hour each day I’d leave my traditional classroom and head down to my special class.
I don’t remember much about my time there, and despite how kind the teacher was I knew I didn’t belong. I was overlooked since my issues weren’t as disruptive as the other students.
Negative Association with Books
I developed a negative association with books during that time in my life. I had a brother who was, and still is a voracious reader. We played together often. However, throughout my childhood many of my attempts to play with him were spurned in favor of a book.
I felt irritated that he wouldn’t play with me. And jealous that he got to lose himself in these worlds that I just wasn’t a part of. They felt like an insurmountable distance from my life.
The school attempted to encourage us to read more. Unfortunately their attempts became just another negative experience for me. Once a week our entire class would head down to the library for story time. In early elementary school this was great. The librarian would read a compelling story full of mystery and intrigue. We’d all be on the edge of our seats to see what would happen next.
However, by 2nd grade, the librarian would only read half the story. Leaving off on some tortuous cliffhanger causing us to moan with disappointment when she’d end. She had extra copies of the book up front with her. To hear the rest of the story we’d need to get a copy and read it ourselves.
My classmates would all line up. She’d hand them each a book. Then they’d find some quite corner of the library to finish the story. It was disappointing not knowing how the story ended, but I also felt left out. Everyone else had the ability to find out what happened but me.
My aversion to books came to a head one day when my grandma took my brother and I to a bookstore. She told us that we could each pick out any book that we wanted. My brother darted off to pour over the options. I wandered around aimlessly with an increasing sense of sadness.
After my brother made his selection, my grandma looked at me to see if I had decided. I burst into tears. That moment was the culmination of all of the disappointments and failures I associated with books.
A Successful Intervention
There is one intervention that stands out during this difficult journey to literacy. After all the traditional interventions had failed, the teachers were grasping at straws to see what would help.
During his free hour, one of the second grade teacher took me out of class and to the library. He handed me a book and told me to go ahead and read it. I started to protest (he obviously hadn’t heard that I couldn’t read). He insisted, just open it up and read it.
I had grown to hate reading out loud (or attempting to read out loud). At least this time I’d only embarrass myself in front of one person rather than the entire class.
I opened the book to the first page only to discover there were no words. I flipped to the next page, still no words. Another page and nothing-it was just page after page of colorful pictures.
I looked up at the teacher in confusion. He flipped the book back to the first page and told me to “read” the story how I saw it. This became my first positive experience with a book, and taught me to use my imagination and creativity.
After elementary school I continued to struggle with reading and to this day I remain the slowest reader I know. So slow in fact that I can’t watch movies with subtitles. I can only get through half of the text before the next subtitle appears.
Despite these struggles I’ve developed a passion for reading. Below are some of the books that shaped my thinking and transformed my life.
- The Allegory of the Cave by Plato – A short work, but I have found it to be one of the best ways to understand change, growth and self-improvement. (Link to a free web version.)
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – One of the best adaptations of the Allegory of the Cave I’ve come across. It taught me that defining myself through someone else’s eyes will leave you lost. And sometimes you need to destroy others definition of you in order to find yourself again.
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau – An interesting introduction to minimalistic philosophy, but also an amazing guide on living an intentional life.
- Self-Reliance and Other Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson –
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston – Helped me understand that you can’t run away from your problems because they end up following you. So you might as well deal with them.
- Black Like Me by John Howard – A real life example of ‘walking a mile in another’s shoes’. This book helped me see that to truly understand someone you have to understand his or her experiences.
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – A good reminder that perspective matters. It also helped me recognize that ‘history is written by the winners’ and may not always be the whole story.
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – A great example of the dangers of judging others. It shows the complexity of the human experience. How a single action doesn’t encompass who we are and shouldn’t be the basis for how we view others.
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglas – This book helped me recognize that I can’t always control or change how people treat me. However, I can ensure they don’t have the ability to take anything from me that I don’t willingly give.
- Mere Christianity by CS Lewis – This book taught me that faith and reason could coexist. It helped me see that I didn’t have to stop thinking or questioning in order to develop my faith.
- Letters from a Skeptic by Greg Boyd – This book helped me formulate an answer to some of the harder questions I have had in my own faith.
- The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton – This was the first personal finance book I read and it couldn’t have been a better introduction. It is easy to read. Full of tangible tips to improve your finances and give you control over your financial destiny.
- The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey – If you are trying to get out of debt, this book is a great place to turn to for both guidance and inspiration.
- Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Percy Walker
- Anything (and Everything) written by Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers and David and Goliath are a good place to start)
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
- Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Night by Elie Wiesel
- I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
Books I’ve been meaning to read forever, but haven’t yet:
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Grabriel Garcia Marquez
- Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
- The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz
I have no clue if these books will resonate with you the way that they did for me. My hope is that you form your own list of books that have shaped your mind and your lives.