An Autobiography in Books

My mom taught me to read when I was four years old. I only know this because she at some point told me that is when I learned to read. I fell in love with reading in the 6th grade when Ms. Paolini required her English class to read Jonathon Livingston Seagull. That is the first book I remember having read, and from there, I never stopped reading.

In 7th grade, I read The Hobbit. It took me the entirety of 7th grade to read it, and I eventually started to skip the parts where dwarves and elves sang songs. In 8th grade, I read The Lord of the Rings and every Asimov magazine I could get my hands on. From there, it was Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, with an occasional book about Arthur Conan Doyle’s master of deductive reasoning, Sherlock Holmes.

My freshman year of high school, my Dad gave me two books. The first book was titled The Fox is Crazy, Too: The True Story of Garrett Trapnell, Adventurer, Skyjacker, Bank Robber, Con Man, Lover. I don’t remember anything about the book, other than I enjoyed it well enough to remember the title. The second book was Will: The Auto-biography of G. Gordon Liddy.

Liddy’s book left a mark. As a child, Liddy was afraid of everything from rats to zeppelins to lightning storms. The first half of the book documents a childhood spent facing each fear until they were dispatched forever, as well as his path to the FBI. The second half is his telling of his involvement in the failed Watergate burglary and the 72 months he spent in prison, months that would have likely been spent with his family had he been willing to testify against members of the Nixon White House. I was moved by the inviolable values by which Liddy lived. His intestinal fortitude was a model that armored me against some events of the following years.

In 1986, I read a book by a young upstart titled, Unlimited Power. A few years later I saw the author, Anthony Robbins in a very large, mostly empty room, teaching influence to business people. At the time, he was still wearing expensive suits and show-ing the outward symbols of success, and still spoke of NLP.

Two years later, I would read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, a book that instantaneously changed how I viewed everything I did, from work to fronting a rock-n-roll band. I read the book every couple of years, always finding something new and always exposing some area where I still had room for improvement, mostly around being proactive and investing in relationships.

While living in Los Angeles, I read a lot of Stephen King and Clive Barker. One day, I didn’t feel well. I had been sick the night before, and I thought I might have had food poising. I was living alone, it was a Saturday, and I had nothing to do. I picked up Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow as soon as I opened my eyelids, and I finished it around time for dinner. I never left my bed and finished the book in one sitting.

A few weeks later, I would have a grand Mal seizure, and a few weeks after that, I would have two brain surgeries, one resulting in losing a significant piece of my brain. After these surgeries, I decided to do something with what remained of my brain by going to college.

I majored in Political Science and read every book and article by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. I read dozens of books on politics, including everything I could find about the founding of America, Federalist and Antifederalist alike. I also read economics, mostly Austrians, like Mises’ Human Action and Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty.

I did not receive my dual major degree in English Literature, but I did take all the required courses, requiring me to read about half of Shakespeare’s plays and all of his sonnets, along with Swift, Cervantes, Dante, Milton, and Dostoevsky. I also read modern American literature, where I fell in love the works of Flannery O’Connor, who was more frightening that Stephen King, her work exposing the evil of which human be-ing are capable without any supernatural forces.

A few years after that, I stumbled into Tom Peters work, and devoured every one of his books, starting with In Search of Excellence. I also read every sales book I cool get my hands on, starting with Mack Hanan’s Consultative Selling, Og Mandino’s Greatest Salesman in the World, Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale, and Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling, Major Account Sales Strategy, and Rethinking the Sales Force.

Later, I bumped into Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, As a Man Thinketh by James Allen, and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel. When you take in good things, good things tend to come out.

I spent a lot of time in bookstores, and still to do this day. I always look that the new nonfiction section, reading the flaps and flipping over the book to read blurbs. This is how I found Howard Bloom’s The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Force of History, the book that provided me with my initial introduction into memes and evolutionary psychology. I followed that thread to Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology.

Of all the books I have read, read again, and gifted, none comes close to What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn) by Seth Godin. I believe it has more power than any other in compelling you to do what you were put here to do.

More recently, the books that capture my attention include the entire works of Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, Antifragile, and Skin in the Game), as well as the many books by Ken Wilber, the American Philosopher who is recognized for Integral Theory, including the books Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, and his most recent work, The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions-More Inclusive, More Comprehensive, More Complete.

I just finished reading Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions by Alberto Mangual, a brilliant book about books (and the impetus for this post). On my desk next to me now is American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring by William Giraldi.

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