There are two types of life changing books. There’s the self-help books about monks and Ferraris or there’s the works of classic literature. In an ideal world, you’d have these classics in a handsome leather bound hardback proudly displayed in your living room to make you look at least 43% more cultured. “Oh yes, Frankenstein is my favourite of all of Dickens’ books.”
I’m not one for self-help and I find most classics (controversial opinion alert) over rated. For me, the life changing books are the books that genuinely cheer me up or spur me on or make me see rainbows again and stop listening to My Chemical Romance Black Parade on repeat. WHEN I WAS A YOUNG BOY, MY FATHER TOOK ME INTO THE CITY, TO SEE A MARCHING BAND. As a creative person, there are a few books I will go back to over and over again. And funnily enough, they are both commencement speeches.
Once upon a time, no one knew who J. K. Rowling was. It’s hard to imagine a world without Harry Potter but it’s true. The story of its publication is almost as famous as the boy wizard. Rowling had to deal with a lot of rejection. In 2008, J.K. Rowling gave us Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. This speech is hilarious and a pocket sized motivational tool. Not just for artists, but for life as a whole. We discover ourselves in failure: our endurance, our friends and our strong will. Such knowledge is a true gift.
Once upon a time, no one knew who Neil Gaiman was. In his 2012 commencement speech, he talks about a lack of a ‘plan’. He knew he wanted to be a writer and he knew what he wanted to write. He had a list: comics, novels, screen plays, an episode of Doctor Who. He imagined a mountain, as long as you are walking toward the mountain, you’re alright. It affirms and inform decisions in your life, choices every artist must face. Much like Rowling, life in the art is embracing failure as well as success. Keep walking towards that mountain, keep making good art.
Finally, not a book yet but I fucking love John Waters’ speech. He is the People’s Pervert and the gentleman that delivered words I live by: “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!” We are the next generation, don’t tell us what to do!