This is the month normally associated with Valentine’s Day, and if I could, I’d send a valentine to every author who has stolen my heart. I am continually amazed at the power of influence a book can have on me, and its ability to have me fall in love with ideas, with stories, and with characters.
Recently I’ve gone through a bit of a dry spell in my reading of books, partly due to the events surrounding my own book and keeping up with things here on Talking Story, and partly due to reading so many blogs instead. Choosing a well-written blog is in some ways like choosing a good book, so it’s a good thing too, but the two are so different in the experiences they create for me. I’ve written a good deal about blogs lately, and this month I want to go back to being the book crusader I love being. There is something very special about books.
Sometimes the right book just falls into my lap, recommended by a friend. Sometimes a book title alone can call out to me, and I’ll buy it never having heard of the author before or even bothering to open it up and read the dust jacket blurbs. In that way I surely must be the perfect online bookseller’s dream customer.
When I do walk into a bookstore I’m in sensory overload, and I am in my own kind of heaven on earth. When I think of all the time, thinking, writing, editing, design and incredible effort that had to happen for a book’s pages to finally be bound together, magnified by the number of titles on the shelves I walk through, I am washed in utter awe and reverence. I am filled with humility, and I feel like the luckiest person alive having this opportunity: all I have to do is reach out, take one off the shelf, open it, and read.
I often think that when I retire one day – if there is such a thing as retirement anymore – it will be in a neighborhood bookstore of my own. There I can be buyer, seller, reader, writer, storyteller, struggling writer’s mentor, literacy advocate, underdog publisher, book everything-er. People will hang out and I’ll be in good reading company all day long. I might not make all that much money, because in my vision there’s a wall of already-lovingly-read books without prices, just a sign that says, “if you have a good home for me, just take me, I’m yours. I’m getting lonely up here, and we could be good for each other.”
And I do admit to having a somewhat romantic notion of my bookstore. Remember the Shop Around the Corner Meg Ryan had in You’ve Got Mail? Add a cappuccino machine and I’m there. But I’d also have this comfortable space with storyboards and big white rolls of butcher paper you can pull across a table that looks like it should be for kids, but it in fact is designed for adults to sit at and write, diagram, doodle, draw, and dream.
There are so many times that books will grab me instantly, and I take these copious notes and journal my own thoughts while still only reading the preface, foreword, or intro, for they seem to immediately to be an affirmation of everything I believe in or want to believe in. The last book that did that for me was Customer Culture by Michael D. Basch. Magically, the author has found the right words, the better words, and they say what I think, as I was waiting for someone to do, someone who could help me with my own inadequacy articulating the thoughts.
If you were to put the books I’ve read on a timeline, they’d probably seem like a chronicle of my life, so strongly compelling is what I read an influence on what I do. My management style was nearly completely re-shaped when I finished First Break All the Rules, and then Now, Discover Your Strengths. Noel Tichy got me to think more deliberately about succession, the next generation of leaders, and how they need to be continually developed within companies when I read his book, The Leadership Engine.
And that’s not to say I’m easily swayed, for sometimes my actions could be described as a one-woman boycott of every argument I’d just read the author present with full evidence and critical acclaim, sales stats and bestseller status be damned.
And that’s why I believe books are so very extraordinary. They get you to think for yourself. They break you out of your routine, and any rut you may be stuck in. And you have to figure it out for yourself, for after you read it, the book doesn’t talk back. Your own well-stimulated brain is all you have to go forward with.
Other times, a book is there for you at precisely the perfect time. The first day of my self-employment, after 35 years working for that reliable paycheck, I pulled out a book a very good friend of mine had given me for Christmas 3 years earlier. The book was Dr. Seuss’s Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? I propped it up, cover staring at me, so I’d read that title every morning when I turned on my computer. It’s still there, and yes, I’m incredibly lucky.
I remember having a garage sale one Waikoloa summer, where after years of lovingly dusting and reshelving them, I finally agreed to let my kids sell their vast collections of children’s books, for they were now relentlessly nagging teenagers with new and pressing needs for the cash they could get. Pack rat that I am, we had already had a few garage sales, however this one was so remarkably different. Maybe it was the heat of mid-summer, and I had a cool garage. Maybe boredom had set in for the kids, or there just wasn’t the same rush to the days we picked. Maybe the other cast-offs for sale in my garage weren’t all that great. Maybe, just maybe, books are magic.
After their first dash for the bargains they sought, here and there, shoppers would find a patch of grass on my lawn and sit with a stack of books with their kids. I had about 200 books for sale, and I’d still stashed away some that my heart will never ever let me part with. I’d hear moms and dads tell their child they could buy 2 or 3, and then, in no rush to make a choice, they did more than preview them as adults do, they began to read. And as kids do when an adult they love reads to them, they’d fall in love with the story of Yertle the Turtle, The Five Chinese Brothers, One Little Monkey, or Golly Gump Swallowed a Fly. Have you ever heard a garage sale described as captivating? This one was. We sold a lot of books that day, however I also gave away twice as many books as I sold. Not one book was left behind.
Adults still fall in love with books too.
Let’s share the wealth this month: ho‘ohana with me on the wealth of knowledge and wisdom to be found between the covers of a book. Tell me, and everyone in our Ho‘ohana Community what book you are reading and how it’s become meaningful for you.
I’ll be doing some different things with our Ho‘ohana on books this month, and I do hope you’ll join in.
Let’s talk story.