Books that changed my life and inspired me (Jan Cisek)

Why I read, speed read and spd rdng?

Many successful people are avid readers and speed readers such as Bill Gates who releases an annual list of his favourite books every year or  Barack Obama who said that reading helped him survive his two terms as President.

Over the years many books and authors have inspired me and changed the course of my life (thousands and thousands of books – I’ve lost count). I read for knowledge and wisdom as well as for pleasure (I am a bookaholic). The key difference between knowledge and wisdom is that wisdom has better longevity and is possibly timeless as opposed to knowledge which as has an expiration date or if you like, it’s updated all the time. ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ (prevention is better than cure) was relevant 100 years ago and probably will be relevant 100 years from now. On the other hand, human understanding that the Earth was flat didn’t last long. Also, as an expert in some fields, I read for difference and new information, since difference gives me new learning, as opposed to reading for sameness which only increases my understanding and confirms what I already know. Some books have transformed my life to a new level and some books only clarified my existing life and made it better. We need both: understanding (repetition, sameness) and learning (difference, new). For example, Zen transformed my life because as a child and teenager I had no idea about such a domain and it expanded and increased my consciousness and my freedom as well as boosted my creativity. Books by Gilles Deleuze have transformed my life by making me a better thinker. On the other hand, books by Yuval Noah Harari clarified and confirmed my existing understanding – in a better, more concise way. (When I just mention authors, I’ve read all their books and books about their books as well – I did mention I’m a bookaholic, right?)

My timeless books list

I’m speed reading some of these timeless (for me) books, from time to time – not all the way through, just thin-slicing some of them again.

Fairy Tales by Grimm Brothers and any other fairy tales (when I was a child)

Sherlock Holmes (When I was a child 8-11, Sherlock was my mentor and teacher training me in deductive thinking. Mastermind by Maria Konnikova is the book about that kind of thinking if you want to think like Sherlock Holmes which I highly recommend.)

Teoria i metodyka ćwiczeń relaksowo-koncentracyjnych / Theory and Methodology of Relaxation-concentration Exercises compilation by Wiesław Romanowski (this was my first book on personal development I read when I was about 11 and it’s about the importance of relaxation as a way of dealing with stress and about meditation, autogenic training and Zen)

“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”
J.K. Rowling

Cybernetyka i charakter (Cybernetics and Character) by Prof Marian Mazur (This book I read several times when I was 14 and didn’t understand it, because I haven’t developed my mathematical intelligence enough but when I picked this book again when I was 15, I got it immediately. It’s about systems thinking and neurofeedback and presents a cybernetic theory of human character. The key argument is that our ‘character’ (not to be confused with the psychological term ‘personality’ relating to symptoms of human behaviour, not its source) cannot be changed by compulsion or persuasion or even self-persuasion. Therefore, in order to establish conformity between one’s character and one’s situation the only possibility (according to cybernetics) is to change the situation or environment, not the character, which is now been confirmed by genetics. Prof Mazur was nominated for the Nobel prize for his work and that’s why I got interested in this discipline at that young age.)

Poe, Musil, Kafka (from the age of 12 to 15 I was reading lots of literature by Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and similar)

Huna by Max Freedom Long (At 14 I was reading everything that was mind-expanding, extraordinary and about unlimited human potential. Huna was very trendy at that time in Poland.)

Introduction to Zen Buddhism by DT Suzuki (when I was 17, this book enlightened me to spirituality beyond Catholic religion)

Hindu philosophy, yoga, Krishnamurti (from the age of 15 to 16 I was a chairman of a local branch of the Polish-Indian Society in my hometown Zamosc, Poland and I was in charge of a large library of translations of Hindu philosophy, yoga, Vedas, meditation, vastu shastra, feng shui, zen, etc, etc)

Rumi (at 15-16 I was reading Rumi and anything about Sufi tradition – he’s still my favourite poet/mystic)

Art and design books (When I was as a teenager and then an adult (15-23) I was studying art and design and I was reading everything about art, painters, history of art and design)

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose A great novel about a book. From the book, this quote: “Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.” 

“Which book are you ashamed not to have read?
None. I don’t think any book is a must-read.”
Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Personal development book (At the age of 25 I arrived in the UK and started to read personal development books, from psychology to NLP to hypnosis, etc. One of the reasons I left Poland was because I ran out of the books to read there.)

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander (when I was 26, I read this classic book for any architect and any aspiring feng shui expert or environmental psychologist)

“Some books leave us free and some books make us free.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (read more inspirational quotes about reading and speed reading)

Ken Wilber At the age of 25 I started studying Ken Wilber and his Integral Theory and I am still his fan, reading everything that he publishes.

Joseph Campbell A Hero With A Thousand Faces, an influential work on comparative mythology that inspired George Lucas to create the Star Wars films. Campbell was an avid reader and once rented a shack and spend five years reading everything important at that time. He said, “would divide the day into four four-hour periods, of which I would be reading in three of the four-hour periods, and free one of them … I would get nine hours of sheer reading done a day. And this went on for five years straight.” Quick calculation: 5 years x 365 = 1825 days =1825 books Joseph Campbell have potentially read (nine hours is plenty to read one book).

Nisargadatta Maharaj (at 28, I’ve discovered Nisargadatta Maharaj and was strangely attracted to his simple and a bit repetitive spiritual message and mantra of ‘I am-ness’)

Marie Louise Von Franz (at 29, I was a serious student of Maria Luise Von Frantz and her Jungian and psychological interpretations of fairy tales and of alchemical manuscripts)

TRIZ, a structured methodology for innovation and problem solving  (at 39, I’ve discovered TRIZ which is based on almost half a century of research and development by a Russian named Genrich Altshuller. TRIZ is the acronym for the Russian words that translate as the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving and offers 40+ key principles for getting out of the box of habit.)

Gilles Deleuze I discovered at the age of 38, a French philosopher, whose writings I seriously/obsessively studied for a few years. Studying philosophy through Deleuze was an amazing journey and shaped and trained my thinking to become a better thinker. I’ve got all his books in French and English and Polish translations and hundreds of books about his philosophy – the best ones by
Claire Colebrook who is a philosopher in her own right and a brilliant literary critic, cultural theorist and thinker – and reading her amazingly clear writings is an immense joy and a feast for the mind and soul. If you want to understand Deleuze quicker, read Clair Colebrook’s books about his philosophy and you’ll get it in no time. Read one of her killer sentences below.

“A problem is a way of creating a future. When plants grow and evolve they do so by way of problems, developing features to avoid predators, to maximise light or to retain moisture.” Claire Colebrook, philosopher and cultural theorist

Susan Norman, author of over 40 books I met my speed reading colleague and business partner in 2000 at a SEAL (Society for Affective Effective Learning) which she was running. We discovered that we share the love of books so I visited her home and her huge library of over 10 000 books. All the books she had I wanted to read (except novels) – so I moved next door and read all her books in four years (as you do). I felt like Joseph Campbell on book steroids. Books should have a warning on the covers: book reading is highly addictive“The person who doesn’t read lives only one life. The reader lives 5,000. Reading is immortality backwards.” said Umberto Eco. I wish I was also a neighbour of Umberto Eco, who had a library of 50 000 books!

“I love the smell of book ink in the morning.” 
Umberto Eco

The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard (at 39, I read The Poetics of Space for the first time and fall in love with it. I’ve read this book many times since then, even a few pages to get these amazing warm feelings of how our homes think and feel. It shaped me as an environmental psychologist and feng shui expert. This book is not to be speed read – it’s like a very refined, delicious and nourishing wine that you want to taste from time to time. To paraphrase the quote from this book – change ‘house’ for ‘book’ “I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”)

The Luck Factor by Dr Richard Wiseman (I read this simple but profound book on how to become lucky, based on scientific principles of luck, when I was 40-something)

“I’m old-fashioned and think that reading books is the most glorious pastime that humankind has yet devised.”
Wisława Szymborska (more quotes about reading and speed reading)

The Little Engine That Could Paperback by Watty Piper  (Author), George and Doris Hauman (Illustrator)
This is really a book for kids but it teaches and fosters the growth mindset (of overcoming difficulties) and self-esteem by praising effort and being specific at the time (as opposed to identities ie intelligence, cleverness, specialness, etc). Kids love it.

Yuval Noah Harari is a very clear historian and writer. His books are easy to follow with concise conclusions (although he admits to making a few mistakes) and easy to speed read (he probably would be appaled by me saying that since he’s a serious reader of long volumes of serious subjects; he doesn’t own a mobile phone and he doesn’t read newspapers – that tells you he’s not into summaries or speed reading). A good and efficient way of ‘speed’-reading his books is to find timelines of what’s talking about which will give you a big picture of the historical periods so it’s easier to follow the details. The big picture to details speed reading technique is a very natural way of approaching any material because it will give you overviews and context. Starting with details can cause confusion. Mortimer Adler in his book ‘How to Read a Book’ suggests ‘To understand a book, you must approach it, first, as a whole, having unity and a structure of part; and second, in terms of its elements, its units of language and thought.”

How to speed read 365 books/year

Quotes about books, reading, speed reading…

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