One day when I was working on Wall Street, someone mentioned the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Out of the ten people in our row of desks, five of us had read it. It’s a 1,200 page novel with an extremely boring 80-page philosophical speech. One guy had read it three times − the first time in his teens. Every one of them was a Director or Managing Director except me.
When I quit my job, another guy I worked with sent an obnoxious e-mail to a mutual friend. He said, “We think Rollie read Eat, Pray, Love too many times.” I’ve never read it, but I see his point.
My friend Hudson likes to tell me, “I think you read too much Hemingway at the wrong time in your life.” Wrong time? I think it was the right time.
Some people would argue that books can’t make you do anything, but I disagree. If you are thoughtful and observant, a book can impact you in ways that you never would have imagined. So if you want to be “successful”, I would argue, you should read Atlas Shrugged. But if you have a secret desire to quit your job and travel the world? Here are some books that have influenced me.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This is a simple parable about a shepherd boy in Spain who goes out in the world to discover himself. Along the way he learns many interesting lessons from places he never expected and battles internal conflicts that had held him back. The message to me was that you will never find anything if you don’t go out looking – even if it’s not what you had expected to find.
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
Kerouac and his friend Japhy explore the tenets of Buddhism as they traverse the country on the road and seek transcendence amidst their chaotic lives. If you’re a curious person who is seeking fulfillment and adventure, this book will speak to you too.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
If I had to guess, I would say that three-quarters of expats who live in Spain have read this book. It’s kind of creepy. If you’re at a bar and mention it, everyone jumps into the discussion. It’s based on a trip that Hemingway once took from Paris to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls. One time I was stuck in Paris, alone and miserable. I didn’t know where to go, so I followed the route they took in the novel. I wound up traveling through Spain and it was during that trip that I decided to move here.
Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer
Krakauer writes about professional football player Pat Tillman who, after 9/11, left the NFL to join the military and fight overseas and was eventually killed by friendly fire. Tillman was an incredibly thoughtful and principled man who gave up fame and fortune for what he believed in. When I was thinking about leaving my job to move to Peru, I read this book for inspiration, and it almost single-handedly pushed me over the edge. Pat Tillman puts all other human beings to shame.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
This book may have become cliché over the years, but I still think it is very applicable. I read it many yeas ago, after reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, which is also a great book. Thoreau wanted to see if he could live minimally in a cabin on Walden pond for a year. I’ve read the following passage hundreds of times in my life:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
I am in a book group here in Madrid and we are trying (key word) to read Don Quixote in Spanish. We meet every week to discuss the previous three chapters. Don Quixote is a story about a guy who reads too many books about chivalry and knights and goes insane. He and his “squire” Sancho Panza hit the road in search of adventures and he deludes himself into thinking he is a legendary knight. It is kind of sad, but it also makes me wonder. Did I read too many adventure books and corrupt my mind? Probably.