Can books change your life?

January 28, 2013

A lot of people tend to stop or at least reduce their reading as they grow older. It can be a natural evolution: the result of working longer hours than you ever spent on schoolwork or because of the change in family situations to having a partner and children. Some people prefer television or the internet, thanks to the added visual and interactive elements.

photo credit: cindiann via photopin cc

On the other hand, as anyone who commutes via public transport in London knows well: readers are out there. After all, you happily read their paper over their shoulder on the tube, and you see them sitting on the bus with their paperbacks or Kindle in hand. Did you notice that these people are more likely to be women?

Nearly half of women are avid readers who cannot put a book down once they begin it and who reliably get through a long list of titles in an average year. […] Twice as many men as women admitted that they never finish a book.
The Guardian

Fiction books are often cited as the best of the best to read. It offers something for the imagination, creativity in conjuring up the scenarios on papers. It provides escapism, as you sink into the life of a billionaire stranded on a desert island or a teenage wizard at a strange school called Hogwarts.

What about non-fiction?

Usually, the celebrity authors dominate the headlines. Read the latest political biography. Learn how to cook a full meal in half an hour. These books certainly make the sales, but no one pretends that it changed their life.

Development books, better known as ‘self-help’ are the exception. Almost exclusively the purview of women – anecdotal evidence indicates that the average man’s refusal to ask for help extends to reading a book that helps – these are the ones that┬áhave apparently changed lives. You know the ones I mean: The Secret, I Can Make You Thin, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Getting Things Done. Yes, those ones with the embarrassing titles that online shopping was invented for. The sad truth is that this is only a multi-million dollar industry because women are often looking for a quick fix.

I’ve frequently heard someone say that a book has changed their life, and I don’t doubt that it led that person to think and behave differently. But there are a few camps of people.

The first group reads every single book, one after the other, searching for “the one” that will miraculously fix their lives. The fact of the matter is that no book can change your behaviour and actions. You have to do that bit yourself. You can learn from the author’s experience, you can feel motivated, you may have learned a new trick. But the hard work, as always, comes from yourself.

Then there are those laughing in the face of all of these books

These women have things to work on, they know it, but they think they’re too busy to get real value from a so-called self-help book. And that’s a mistake, because all books have potential. The best ones are powerful, thought-provoking and make you see things in a different light. Ignore the media blitz, ignore the apparent target audience, ignore the cheesiness of the title. Think about yourself. What do you want to work on? Find a recommended book, with reviews you trust, and join those reading on the tube or listening to the audio version in the car.

Then, when the book’s over, stop and reflect. Did you learn anything? How could you apply that to your challenges and objectives? Is there someone else that it could be useful for? Can you improve upon an idea thrown out in the book?

The thing is, when the book’s finished, the real work begins. And that’s the change we’re looking for.

Skirts & Ladders is kicking off its first free discussion & networking event, Books with Bubbles, on February 19 in Canary Wharf. Join us for an informal evening and hear from Jenny Garrett, author of Rocking Your Role, and come ready for lively discussions moderated by Lily Dey, an experienced group coach and founder of Skirts & Ladders.

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