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Dr. Helen

What Old Books Still Influence You Today?

December 26th, 2013 - 5:31 am

I thought about this question as I read over John T.Malloy’s book Molloy’s Live for success from the early 1980′s. If you never read it, it uses research to pinpoint how people become successful. My husband, Glenn, told me that the book influenced him when he was in college and I could see why: it gives clear and concise advice on body signals, how to practice for job interviews and how to communicate verbally and non-verbally with others.

It got me thinking about how important books can be when we read them during our earlier years and apply what we learned as we get older. The works I read in psychology stuck with me through life and I often think of how many of the authors’ words and thoughts from time past still hold true today.

What books influenced you in your more formative years and do you still use the information today or does it no longer apply to today’s times?

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All Comments   (9)
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When I was a kid my mom always kept a copy of The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. I have read this book three times in my life, but have visited it and skimmed through the book countless times. I am always able to find something insightful or encouraging.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
The edit window for comments seems way too short here.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Had I known about Live For Success I'd have read it, and apparently I should have.

I did read Dress For Success and it served me well.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh, there have been many great books that have influenced me and continue to influence me to this day. I could make a list, but it would be long and exhaustive.

But if I had to pick the one book that influenced me more than any other, it would by The Mason Williams Reading Matter. It was the first book of poetry I read as a child. My father gave me a copy when it first came out, in Jan. 1969. I would have been 7 then.

Mason Williams is a Texas poet from Abilene, but he got his break writing for the Smothers Brothers on TV. That show was hilarious, in large part due to Mason Williams. And when the show had run its course, he published one book, and semi-retired to be a creative writing professor at the University of Houston.

I don't know why my father gave me this book. Hell, I don't even know how he knew about it. He was a systems analyst and computer programmer. All he did all day was work on computer programs for banks and businesses to run their accounts on. And at night he would drink beer and read. But he loved the Smothers Brothers and he knew who Mason Williams was, so when his book came out, he bought a copy and gave it to me. "Here, son." "Cool, thanks Dad."

It's difficult to describe this book, as it really doesn't confrom to any genre. It's more like this is me, Mason Williams, and this is how I look at the world. It is at once brilliant, profound, serious, comical, beautiful, and tragic. But through it all is a light-hearted look at the world.

This book blew my mind when I was 7. And I've been carrying it around and reading it ever since. I still have my original copy, but after 45 years, it's fallen apart. I recently found a fine copy online and ordered it for myself for Chistmas this year.

No other book has influenced me in the way this one has. All through high school, college and graduate school, whenever I had to write a paper, I always approached it with Mason Williams on my mind. I turned in papers that were a mixture profundity and silliness, beauty and tragedy, commentary and introspection, detailed observations with a twist.

My medieval professor told me, "You're highly intelligent and very well read, but you're completely mad." After my father read my thesis on Blake, he said, "Son, if I hadn't known you your entire life, I would swear you were completely insane."

Yeah, well, that's what happens when you give a 7-year old Mason Williams to read.

I absolutely love The Mason Williams Reading Matter. He does not conform to convention. He writes what he writes without fear. And that's the way it has to be, if you believe in freedom.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (followed by Atlas Shrugged). I'm certain that I would have become a libertarian without reading those books, but they paved the way and accelerated my transition from ignoring politics to advocating libertarianism.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Ascent of Man. I read it when I was probably 12 and it set in motion a love of reading facts instead of the romance novels all my friends were reading and passing back and forth at the time.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
1984 - after reading it as a teenager, I tried to always use cash to purchase books and only used the library for work documented elsewhere or pedestrian titles. I always was aware of the dangers of keeping a journal. And thought long and hard before giving up my fingerprints the first time when I joined the Navy. I was paranoid of giving them (I don't know who the are, but they are like the poor, always with us) ammo to use against me. I aware of the surveillance "state" before worrying about surveillance was cool. Buying from Amazon, particularly books, and eventually commenting online were not activities joined without thought.

Interestingly, growing up in the buckle of the Bible belt, my early concerns were about reading books that might incur the wrath of the overly religious, but now, as the worm turns, concerns are really over the overly.....no religious is the right term here as well. I guess I should use Christian and Progressive to be more precise.

In a lighter vein, 'A Natural History of the Senses' by Diane Ackerman. An eloquent discussion of each of our senses that makes me mindful of them when I consider her discussions and thus opens up a whole new world of sensation for a while. It is intriguing to consider what is filtered out of our senses and what remains in our awareness and how changing that could change your life.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
When I was eight years old or so, one of my aunts gave me a copy of Alice in Wonderland. I have retained an affection for both it and its companion Through the Looking Glass, and have found both to be invaluable guides to both the corporate world and American politics. Other books that I encountered before the age of twenty-five that I have found invaluable include:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back by Dr. Seuss (particularly the couplet "Somebody, somebody has to, you see / Then she picked out two somebodies: Sally and me."
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod

It applies to any sort of social species (or symbiotic relationship) and humans are about as social as species come.

Axelrod comes up with 4 general rules:

1. Don't be the first to defect
2. Reciprocate both cooperation and defection
3. Don't be envious (The goal is to gain the most for yourself, not necessarily to gain more than others.)
4. Don't be too clever (i.e. don't adopt a strategy that is so complicated that others can't figure it out)

Highly recommended
42 weeks ago
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