The title of this article came from a Frank Zappa quote. Truer words were never spoken.
Ryan Holiday once wrote about a decision he made, many years ago – if there was ever a book he came across that he wanted, that wasn’t exorbitantly expensive, he wouldn’t deny himself that pleasure. Reason? The return in value you can get from a good book is exponential. For every dud, there’ll be a diamond.
“The book you don’t read won’t help.”
Case in point – I live just off Albert Road, the ‘alternative town centre of the seaside city of Portsmouth. This road is graced with lots of cool coffee shops, bars, curry houses – and, thankfully, old book shops. It’s one of my absolute joys to dip in and peruse the shelves every now and then, with no particular target in mind.
I bought this book for 50p at a charity shop three years ago. It staggers me how much value you can get from books with so little investment. To think that these are literally the thoughts of this titan of modern history, scrawled on scraps of paper and hidden in the prison yard of Robben Island during his imprisonment, before eventually making it into my hands for less than the price of a packet of crisps… it's insane. I decided a few years ago never to deny myself the opportunity to buy a book if I wanted it. I'd recommend you try that attitude out, and see what you get from it.
One day about three years ago, I came across a copy of ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, Nelson Mandela’s incredible masterpiece. The tale of a transformative period in world history, from the brain of one of the key players. It was 50p. Put that in perspective for a minute. I almost can’t process it even now: that the thoughts and feelings of this titan, ephemeral and fleeting, captured and scrawled on scraps of paper and hidden in the dirt on Robben Island, had found their way into my hands for less than a pint of milk.
“Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.”
That’s an extraordinary example. But it applies to nearly every other book. You see that tome on screenwriting, the career you wish you had and have been thinking about for the last 20 years in the airport? No, £15 isn’t too expensive. Buy it. Do something about it. You’ll fritter away more than that on coffee and biscuits in the next few days.
Abraham Lincoln said, “books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.” That’s important. The more you read, the more you realise that you don’t need to be some kind of singular genius to create something You just have to communicate your experiences honestly, bring ideas together in a unique way – unique because they’re connected by you. There’s nothing new under the sun – but everything needs retelling, and reimagining. Put it in terms the world you inhabit will understand.
Just buy the damn book. You won’t regret it.