Sunday, July 7, 2013

Is there a book or two from your past that helped you see yourself and your world in a whole new way?

Every Sunday morning, I receive Dr Mardy Grothe's e-newsletter:


Dr Grothe has featured in this space many times before. A psychologist by training, he is an author and, as his website puts it, an engaging and entertaining speaker who gives scores of seminars every year to CEO groups that are part of an international network known as The Executive Committee (TEC).

I am reproducing the relevant portion of his latest piece here because, today, he is discussing a very important topic:

"Life-Altering Books"


The quotation in this week's Puzzler ["How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book" — Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden] illustrates one of history's most fascinating themes: the idea that people can be changed — sometimes in dramatic ways — by the reading of a single book.

In the lives of countless people over the centuries, a life-altering book can be as influential as a lifetime of instruction from family members, clergy, and teachers.

It happened several times with Ralph Waldo Emerson [Thoreau's friend and mentor], whose life was impacted in significant ways by the confessions of Rousseau, the essays of Montaigne, and the confessions of St. Augustine. In 1840, he sent a copy of Augustine's book to a friend along with this revealing note:

    It happens to us once or twice in a lifetime
    to be drunk with some book which probably has
    some extraordinary relative power to intoxicate us...
    and having exhausted that cup of enchantment
    we go groping in libraries all our years afterwards
    in the hope of being in Paradise again.

Several decades later, Emerson returned to the subject of pivotal books in an essay in Society and Solitude (1870):

    There are books...which take rank in your life
    with parents and lovers and passionate experiences,
    so medicinal, so stringent, so revolutionary, so authoritative.

The concept of life-altering books was clearly on the mind of Franz Kafka, when he asked in a 1904 letter to his friend, Oskar Pollack: "If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it?" He then answered his own question this way:

If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it?
A book should serve as an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us.

I can think of several books that helped to break the frozen sea within me, including the one featured in this week's Puzzler. I tell the full story in my I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like book, but the brief version is that I read it [Walden]when I was a 20-year-old college student in the middle of a major "identity crisis". After reading the first couple of pages, I couldn't put the book down. And by the time I finished reading it, I had recorded several dozen passages on library index cards and tacked them up on the bulletin board above my desk. Some of those passages ultimately went on to become such an important part of my life that I can recite them from memory today, more than fifty years later.

How about you? Is there a book or two from your past that helped you see yourself and your world in a whole new way? As you think about which books belong in that category, take few moments to peruse this week's selection of quotes on the theme:

   "Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts
    which other men have prepared
    to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life."

          Jesse Lee Bennett

   "It is chiefly through books
    that we enjoy the intercourse with superior minds."

          William Ellery Channing

   "A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity,
    and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen
    by morning light, at noon and by moonlight."

          Robertson Davies

"The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves."
          E. M. Forster

"Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books."
          Bell Hooks

 "It is from books that wise people
 derive consolation in the troubles of life."

          Victor Hugo

   "If we are imprisoned in ourselves,
    books provide us with the means of escape.
    If we have run too far away from ourselves,
    books show us the way back."

          Holbrook Jackson

   "Books go out into the world,
    travel mysteriously from hand to hand,
    and somehow find their way to the people who need them
    at the times when they need them....
    Cosmic forces guide such passings-along."

          Erica Jong

"People don't realise how a man's whole life can be changed by one book."
          Malcolm X

   "The real purpose of books
    is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking."

          Christopher Morley

"The lover of books is a miner, searching for gold all his life long. He finds his nuggets, his heart leaps in his breast; he cannot believe in his good fortune."
          Kathleen Norris, in These I Like Best (1941)

"Bread and books: food for the body and food for the soul — what could be more worthy of our respect, and even love?"
          Salman Rushdie
Tell me, please: What role has reading played in your life? (Another thought-provoking post by Dr Mardy Grothe)

Reading this book will change your approach to life

25 books that will give you a better perspective on life and also help prepare you for the workplace

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