The largest non-profit children’s literacy organization in the U.S. is Reading is Fundamental, Inc. When I was a child, however, I found reading fundamental-ly frustrating. You see, I was a slow reader and every assignment felt like drudgery. I remember lying on my bed one Sunday afternoon trying to finish Tom Sawyer so I could complete a seventh-grade book report that was due the following morning. It felt as if I had to read each word individually and then think about its meaning before I could go on to the next. As a younger child, I recall spending ten minutes trying to figure out what the word “between” meant. I kept thinking, “What the heck is bet ween.”
Thus, I avoided reading whenever I could.
My mother, on the other hand, was a voracious reader and always seemed to have a handful of national bestsellers on the bookcase. I remember sneaking a peak at Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask and for once during my youth, both my reading speed and comprehension soared.
Then, something changed. In the late 70’s, I read The Amityville Horror. I remember being completely enthralled while at the same time terrified by this Jay Anson novel. In fact, it scared me so much, I could only read it during daylight hours so I could actually see anything that was lurking behind the closet door before it could come after me. What seemed to be different about this book was that the story activated my imagination in ways no other book had.
I’d like to say that I became an avid reader after reading The Amityville Horror but the transition didn’t occur until a decade later. When I was in college and graduate school, I had too much required reading. Then, while working as a hospice social worker and keeping up with my family at home, I did not usually want to read during the evening. Instead, I would click on the adult babysitter (i.e. the television) and become hypnotized until it was time for bed. The next night, I would rinse and repeat.
When I became a hospice manager however, I realized that I needed additional training to be a good supervisor. So, I immersed myself in management and leadership books. Our CEO was also continually recommending the most recent bestsellers so as a “several-minutes manager,” I learned to take my “seven habits” from “good to great” while “winning friends and influencing people.” Needless to say, I was hooked on improving my life by reading professional development books.
For years, I read these business oriented books until I made an alarming discovery. They were all the same. Well, not really, but the themes were pretty similar from one book to the next. They were just packaged differently. After this unexpected realization, I had a hard time being engaged by most professional development books. I kept thinking, “I know this. I’ve heard that. I’ll never do those things.”
During this same time, I was working with my friend and colleague, Lou Heckler, on improving my presentation skills. He had a great knack for sorting through all of the clutter in my outline and helping me hone the material, stories, and humor. During one discussion, he said, “If you want to be a better storyteller, read more novels.”
It was as if a light went off in the library of my brain and illuminated new possibilities for my ever-developing reading muscle. I realized that professional development was not limited to the business section of the bookstore.
Today, I rarely read professional development books unless I need specific information. For instance, I’m working on a film about my college band and have immersed myself in several fantastic books on creating documentaries. But most of my reading now focuses on the human condition and how we, as people, manage this journey of life. Here are my primary interests:
Mindfulness. I think one of the greatest regrets I have is not learning about mindfulness until a few years ago. Essentially, our minds want to create drama in our lives and to battle these theatrics, we must become more present and more aware. This has totally changed how I now deal with stress, anxiety, and adversity. In particular, the following books were instrumental in helping me understand these concepts:
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat Zinn
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Novels. I’ve always been a fan of Stephen King novels (probably due to some residual fear from the The Amityville Horror) and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve expanded my collection to include other authors of fiction. The cool thing about novels is that the authors create engaging stories by painting vivid pictures in our minds. This allows us to tap into our own creativity. And as Lou Heckler reminded me, a novel can improve my own storytelling. Here are a few of my favorite novels:
11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Biographies/True-Life Stories. Some of the most valuable lessons in life come from other people. We can be inspired by mountain climbers and olympic athletes as well as those who have experienced overwhelming adversity. I am particularly drawn to comedians and entertainers because so often, the way they see the world resonates with me. I enjoy seeing how people use both their strengths and weaknesses to get through life. Sometimes, their flaws are what make them stronger and other times, the flaws become their undoing. Either way, we can learn from their experiences and apply the information to our own lives. Here are a couple of my favorite true-life books:
Into Thin Air by Jon Kraukauer
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Just Kids by Patti Smith
I have come to understand that reading is fundamental. It not only forces our mind to work, rather than being transfixed by an electronic screen of some sort, but it gives us a window into someone else’s ideas and perspectives. Plus, when an author tells a great story through a beautiful command of the language, it helps us to use our own words more effectively. In my opinion, there is nothing better than having my mind entertained and expanded at the same time. That’s the essence of Do it Well. Make it Fun. which, by the way, is another a great book! Haha.
So, what’s on your reading list?