“Want to improve your life and be a better person’ is a real headline from this real news article.
It’s one of those lists of ten books that you must read to become a better person. And it’s a list of those sorts of books, you know? Those books with titles like ‘Peak’ and ‘Grit’ and ‘Ego is the enemy’ and ‘This book ignores human emotions’.
OK, I admit it, I made that last one up.
So you may have guessed that I’m not a big fan of these types of books! And it’s not because I don’t love books, I do, I really do. But not this sort. I know they have their fans, and that this post is going against perceived wisdom. Especially as Bill Gates just released a similar list of his favourite books.
I’ve learned so many lessons through reading, but none of the lessons have been of the instructional type.
In the Fact vs Fiction war, Fiction always win
It’s fair to say that I like to filter my worldview through some rather random thoughts and ideas, based on years of reading a diverse range of, mainly, modern literature. I probably could read Grit and learn something. But I’d rather read, I don’t know, Beatles. It’s not really about the Beatles, although it sort of is, but it did make me consider a few things about life that I hadn’t before.
And that, to me, is how you become a better person through reading books. There’s no quick fix, you just need to read lots of different stuff. Some of it will entertain, some will resonate, and some will bore you stupid.
But all should make you think about your position in the world. And some of it may change the way you think. And in a small way it may improve your life and make you a better person.
My list to be a better person
So here’s my list of five books that influenced me when I was growing up, each teaching me their own lesson on life.
- One of the Hardy Boys mysteries. I can’t remember which one, but in it they won a competition to have a free car for 24 hours. They managed to convince the car company that the 24 hours was cumulative, and used it for a couple of weeks, on and off, to get them about to solve a crime.
- Lesson learnt – never take anything you’re told on face value, and do your best to subvert the rules
- Swallows and Amazons. Again, I can’t remember which one. It’s the one where the gang were accused of stealing some shackles. They didn’t, and the policeman knew they didn’t because ‘they always went to the trouble of burying orange peel’. Orange peel takes months to decompose you see, so rather than littering they buried it.
- Lesson learnt – be a decent human being and respect the environment.
- Nature Made Ridiculously Simple, or, How to Identify Absolutely Everything by Miles Kington. Just the title of the book is enough to make me smile. It’s full of crazy descriptions of British flora and fauna, covering everything from moss to motorway hawks. Brilliantly written and absurd.
- Lesson learnt – The absurd is a joyous thing, and there’s more absurdity in the world than you can poke a stick at. So poke away.
- The Hobbit. I loved this book, it was so exciting and engaging and magical. I raced through it, becoming obsessed with the characters and Tolkien’s world. And then I got to Lord of the Rings and hated it.
- Lessons learnt – That I’m not a complete geek. Fluffy hobbit tales are one thing, but a full on saga about elves and trolls is another. And don’t feel bad about dumping a book after 57 pages. If it hasn’t grabbed you by then, it won’t.
- Catcher in the Rye. Do I need to say anything more?
- In case I do it’s this – Don’t let the phoneys drag you down. Enough said.
So there we have it, please feel free to take my list and use it with your own children, helping them to improve their life and be a great person.
Just like I’m not. Of course I’m not. Nobody is perfect, but we can all learn how to make the most of what we’ve got. And for me, there’s more to learn from Winnie The Pooh than there is from The Power of Habit, or any of the other books on that list.
Except, perhaps, for number ten: The subtle art of not giving a fuck. Now that’s a lesson we all could learn, and it’s not as obvious as it seems.