Top Ten “Must-Reads”

I cannot stress the importance of reading books without suggesting some books to read!  Since I have averaged reading 75 books a year for the past fifteen years, I have some strong opinions. Some books may not be the most popular but they are great reads. All I list here are non-fiction because these contain the human interest stories and ideas that can easily be incorporated in speeches and conversations.

But I love fiction, too. My favorite fiction writers are Harlan Coben, Robert Parker, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, and Barry Eisler. I have never read a dull book by any of the above. If you would like more good fiction/
mystery writers, email me and I’ll send a second list of recommended authors.

My Top Ten “must-reads,” alphabetical by author, include:

  • Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda. You may think of Mash when you hear his name, but this book is so entertaining and well-written you can’t put it down.
  • The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb is the story of Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, which many thought would never happen. The account of the race is breathtaking.
  • Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington. A reporter for The New York Times got so caught up in covering the murder trial of a snake-handling preacher in Alabama that he wrote a book about snake-handling as a religious practice in the hills of the South. I learned about a sub-culture that I did not know existed.
  • Going Solo by Roald Dahl, a gifted writer for both children and adults, is a series of short autobiographical stories. His ability to describe and create suspense is masterful.
  • Try Giving Yourself Away by David Dunn was first published in 1947 and reprinted in 1987. This is one of the first how-to books I read years ago, and I still refer to it when I need a boost on the importance of serving others for your own happiness and well-being.
  • The Luck Factor by Max Gunther is a marvelous little book on how luck comes your way the more you become acquainted with various people. Although it was not hyped as that when this book was published in 1977, this is one of the first books on networking.
  • Sandy Koufax:  A Lefty’s Legacy by Jane Leavy is not only the captivating story of one of the greatest major league pitchers of all time, but also demonstrates what commitment to principles and hard work can produce. He played in the majors 12 years and retired at 30—one of the youngest ever to do so.
  • And Never Stop Dancing by Gordon Livingston is a series of short essays on his life philosophies. I love the title, and the chapter titles remind us of common sense principles told in creative and thought-provoking ways.
  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauerwas the beginning of a plethora of books on heroic human fights against nature. This is a view of mountain climbing that is breathtaking and you don’t even have to climb to get the feeling.
  • Against Death and Time by Brock Yates chronicles one year in the history of racecar driving. The story is told through the daredevil lives of several young men, young because they never lived to old age.

This is the list. Testimony to how I feel about them is that I kept these ten for my own library instead of giving them away or donating them to the public library as I usually do. Have at it!

What non-fiction books would you add to this list? Comment so the rest of us can profit from your reading experiences.

Book It to a Book!

This time of year publicity for the new fall television schedule is ubiquitous. What will be the hit program?  What new star will we be introduced to?  What will be the best creative idea for a series? 

            But there is another medium that is always new even though it is old: the world of books. Uncle Tom's Cabin, written in 1852, exposed the mistreatment of black slaves in the United States, and may be new to someone who is not familiar with what led to the American Civil War. Though the book had a great impact on people’s attitudes toward slavery, there is no specific season for a certain book; all seasons have benefits to the reader. Readers today can still learn important principles from Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

            Reading is not our nation's favorite pastime. According to self-publishing guru Dan Poynter, one third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. Over 40 percent of college graduates never read another book after college. Seventy percent of adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

            Yet few activities can enrich a person's life like reading books. You may not be able to travel to Hawaii, but you feel like you have been there after reading James Michener’s Hawaii. You may not have a schedule that allows you to attend a knitting class on a regular basis, but you can learn the skill with a book on how to knit. You have a chronic ailment; learn about it by reading a book on the subject.

            Reading enriches your vocabulary. When you come to a word you do not know, you may be able to figure it out from the context. If not, stop for a moment, look up the meaning, and continue reading. You don't have to see a movie to escape into another era; read a book. Some books may interfere with sleep or work because you are caught up in the action of the characters in the book, but the risk is worth it.

            Books can change a life because of the information they contain. You might read a self-help book that gives you information to get out of debt, improve your marriage, start a hobby, or find new employment.

            Try spending less time on the new television shows this fall. Turn off the flat screen and read a book. Recently, I've learned much about writing by reading Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird, published in 1995, and have been held in suspense by Harlan Coben's current book, Shelter. As Joseph Brodsky said, "There are worse crimes than burning books. One is not reading them." 

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. Visit his site to read other valuable articles on effective speaking and listening.

Learning From the Written Word

Certainly writing style is much different from oral style. Word choice, for example, is simpler and more informal in speaking than in writing. But you can learn about oral style by reading. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, movie critic Robert Ebert examined film criticism that is available online. He wrote that due to the rise of technology, companies are able to restore old films so that "Today we can see the work of Buster Keaton more clearly than he could in the last three decades of his life."  The comparison here clarifies the amazing advances in restoration of old films in the minds of the reader.

A comparison can do the same in a speech. The listener cannot go back over what you have said, so you must be instantly clear. The comparison is probably the shortest way to make a point clear.

Ebert contrasted the poor writing styles of academics with the outstanding film criticism now available online: "They communicate in prose as clear as running water."  Again the simple comparison helps the reader understand instantly how Ebert feels about such writing style.

Thus a speaker can learn clarity in his/her craft by reading essays as well as working on specific speaking skills. In fact, any medium other than speaking will broaden our skills in what to say and how to say it.