Saturday, May 18, 2013

Maybe read a book once in a while.

I have a filthy horrible secret....

I enjoy reading self-help books.

Really, I feel better now.

In all seriousness, there are some great self-help books out there.  Even the not-so great ones can give you interesting perspective if you can stand to wade through the psychobabble.  The late John Wooden is remembered in small part for saying that, "Five years from now, you're the same person except for the people you've met and the books you've read."

Stop and soak that one in for a minute.

Who do you want to be in five years?  Still working at a department store, or serving drinks?  Do you still want to be living in a rental you hate?  Still want to be broke?

Yeah, me neither.

We want to change.  We want to do better; be better.  We want to, dare I say it?...  Grow Up™.

The secret is right there, from an old retired basketball coach.  Meet people.  Read books.  Today I'm talking about the books.  You see, I still kind of suck at the whole, "meeting people," thing, but I love me some books.  There are a few books that everyone should read.  Some are self help books, some are fiction, but they all have one thing in common: They can help you to look at the world from a new perspective.

So, without further ado, my list of 9 books everyone should read, and my much shorter list of the worst books I've ever had the Misforture™ (that's not a typo.  It's a new word.  misfortune+torture) to attempt reading.

#1 1984, by George Orwell.  If you've never read any dystopian fiction, you need to read this one.  It is the literary embodiment of intrusive government.

#2 How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.  This is one of the cheesiest sounding book titles in history, but everyone should read it.  It's really not about how to win friends and influence people.  It's about how to deal with people.  How to interact with people more effectively.  It teaches lessons that are important in business, marriage, friendships, and even dealing with your waiter.

#3 Proverbs.  I know, I know.  You can't just go and recommend reading one of the books from the Bible.  You tick off everybody that way.  Anti-Christians get turned off at the mention of the Bible and Bible-thumpers get upset that you didn't just recommend the Bible.

Look, here's the deal; the Bible is great.  I'm a big fan, being Catholic and all, but I also know the thing is about as reader-friendly as War and Peace.  Plus, not everybody is a Christian.  There's a whole world out there full of Jews, Muslims, atheists and let us never forget our brothers, the Professionally Offended™.  But Proverbs is mostly full of really basic ideas about how to not be a complete tool, and if you find a Contemporary English Version, or a Bible in Basic English, it's one of the most readable and approachable books in the whole Bible.  It's chocked full of great wisdom like, only stupid people co-sign, and a guy who finds a really good wife will be more successful.  Granted, there's some nutty stuff in there too, but there's always a few un-popped kernels in the bottom of the bag.

#4 The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.  Snotty spoiled rich guy gets a free pass on the consequences of his life, except for one hideous reminder of what his soul really looks like.

#5 The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey.  This one loses points in a couple of places.  First of all, the book would be a lot better if you cut the testimonials in half.  By page 10 or 20 you will have learned to recognize testimonials at a glance and skip over them.  This is actually a valuable skill to develop when reading self-help books in general, as they all tend to have lots of those gushy sections you really don't need to read.  The other thing that kills this book is the title.  "The Total Money Makeover."  If you're at all familiar with Dave Ramsey, you know that he is about as far from late night cable TV as you can get, but if ever a book title sounded like late night, get rich quick, sleaze-ball, infomercial garbage, that was it.  Fortunately, the book is so packed with incredibly useful advice for getting out of debt, staying out of debt, and generally getting your finances in order (allowing you to get the rest of your life in order with a lot less stress) that it completely redeems itself several times over.  This book has literally changed my life.

#6 Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.  On the down side here, it's written by Charles Dickens.  That means that you know before you open the cover that it's long and depressing.  What makes it worth reading is the reminder that just a little bit of entitlement can really mess a person up, getting everything you've always wanted can wreck your life, and most importantly, that it's never too late to make amends and start again.

#7 Start, by Jon Acuff.  If you're reading this blog for reasons other than the same sense of morbid curiosity that makes drivers slow down and turn their heads when passing an accident, then this book is for you.  Mr. Acuff is a little green as an author, but it seems you can tolerate this blog, so you should have no trouble reading Start.  The title is pretty self explanatory, and that's pretty much what the book is about.  There's a lot of talk about mastering and guiding, but the main point is to start.  To get off your much larger than it was 10 years ago butt, and do something with yourself.  It's good advice, and very approachable.

#8 What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles.  This one is pretty situation specific, and not worth reading unless you need it.  If you find yourself desperately searching for a job, or having trouble finding a job once you've decided to switch careers (and you're actually 'ready' to change careers), this one is for you.  As an added bonus, the author is more neurotic than my cat, so he does a major rewrite every year, based on the current job market.  Ultimately, it's not so much a self help book, as an instruction manual for getting a job.

#9 Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern.  This book is neither self help, nor fiction.  It is however, cover to cover awesome (unlike the Misforture™ of a TV show that it spawned).  It's a collection of quotes and short stories the author wrote about his father, and the crazy things he says.  The book began as online chat signatures he used when he had been forced to move back in with his dad as an adult.  Since then, Justin Halpern has become pretty successful.  He managed to find his own Real Job™, and frankly, to grow up after 30.  It seems like he picked up some wisdom from what his dad had to say.  We probably can too.

#10 Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud.  Boundaries are something that most of us could use a little help with.  We have in-laws who want to run our lives.  We have family members who's lives are a never ending train wreck, and probably at least one friend who is just plain old toxic.  This book, is understandably chock full of psychobable, given that it's about relationships, but it's also chocked full of wonderful and practical advice for building clear and healthy boundaries.

And now, my list of books that nobody should read, which is actually pretty short:

#1 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey.  This book, which is one of the most successful self help books in history, lays out a fantastic and well thought out system through which you can be the most effective person you can be in both your professional and personal life.  Sounds great, right?  Here's the problem: it is the worst read in the history of self-help.  This book popularized the word paradigm.  Apparently, the phrase, "point of view," was just too ambiguous.  Every meaningful insight in this travesty of a book is completely buried in an Everest sized mountain of corporate buzz words and psychobabble.  With any luck, the good people from Cliff Notes will someday release a little yellow and black book for this title.  Until then, take my word for it and read books that were written by humans.

#2 Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer.  First, I have to admit that while I did make an honest attempt at reading this book, I only managed to read about half of it.  I'm a firm believer in finishing every book I start, so the very fact that I wasn't able to wade through this crime against literature says a lot.  It's the first in a series of books about a century old vampire who hangs out in a highschool, and a teenage girl who is quite possibly the most unintentionally one-dimensional literary character of all time.  Meyer sets out an example for relationships that is unhealthy at best, and deeply destructive and emotionally abusive at worst.  She then holds it up as a great romance.  This book will not change your life.  It will not open your mind.  It will not, in any way, make you a better or more interesting person.  It will cost $12.95, and waste several hours of your life.  That is all.

#3 Anything else written by Stephenie Meyer.  Let's be honest folks; as a society, we need to take this woman's keyboard away.

#4 48 Days to the Work You Love, by Dan Miller.  In fairness, this one may actually be a great read for some folks, and there really was a lot of good stuff in this book.  Unfortunately, it's written for the pathologically type-A.  This book is chocked full of worksheets, questionnaires, forms, and step by step guides.  Personally, I think that approach almost never works.  We need to have goals and plans, but we also need to have the flexibility to adjust to what life throws our way; which will be the topic of an upcoming post, so check back soon.

*Feel free to share you best and worst books in the comments section below.