If reading is food for the soul, then we can literally become a projection of the things we read.  For reasons that would take too long to fully explain, it has been proven to have a deeper impact on our understanding of the world around us and how we learn and adapt to it than most other forms of educational stimuli.  I recently read that one of the biggest factors in a child’s educational development is the number of books in the house, that they can see growing up; and curiously, they not need all be read, merely there to reinforce ideas and concepts that shape young minds. To me, this makes it even more important that we digest quality forms of literary sustenance, in a world where we are tempted to snack daily in short packets of around one-hundred-and-forty characters.

Not too long ago, I championed an educational initiative called The Six Book Challenge which was a call to action for the young and the old who had grown disillusioned with reading to consume six pieces of literature for a chance to win a prize at the Super League Grand Final.  I’m not suggesting you have to start reading every moment of every day, but finding that love again can help to encourage creativity and a positive mind space that’s not tuned specifically to social media concepts. To start, and for what it’s worth, here are five of the top books I have enjoyed chewing through recently for you to potentially consider as a springboard back into the world of reading.

1. The Bible

JJB-holy-bible

Don’t worry, I’m not getting religious on you, I’ve never been a process driven or methodical person anyway so I would be rubbish at religion. Contrary to much belief the bible isn’t about being religious, it’s about faith, its about the Word of God, a Word which manifest into human history some 2000 years ago and spent much of his time as the person of Jesus Christ correcting Religious people who had got it wrong.

Wisdom, history, poetry, prophecy and of course “the Good news” combine to form a narrative which I believe, with all my heart, mind and soul is the God breathed word of our creator.

We look to Marvel and DC comics for the idea that we all have a Super power and an inert weakness within all of us. I prefer to believe that we are all made in Gods image and have something special and unique inside, powered by a word that neither science or evolution will ever explain – Love.

However, Human beings are notoriously bad decision makers and chasers of idols, demonstrated by the lives of most of the biblical character’s for the purpose of highlighting two of our biggest weakness – idolatry and disbelief. As with all super Heroes though, Jesus is at his strongest when we are at our weakest and is the shining light who, through faith, becomes our great redeemer. The truth isn’t fragile, have a look it’s the greatest book there is and the foundation of my life. Amen!

2. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

JJB-Steve-JobsIt’s fair to say that Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs left a legacy that infringes upon nearly all of us on a daily basis.  Whether you own an Apple product or not, the technology industry has spent the last decade playing catch-up with the world’s most valuable company.  Walter Isaacson’s epic, an authorised biography on which Jobs waived any creative input, gives a fascinating insight into the life of the son of a Syrian immigrant who believed that “the people crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that can”.   

Jobs had a thought process which polarised conventional thinking. He manifested his imagination into a reality by creating a team of what he called “A Players” (people who were the very best in their field) and almost manipulating them into creating the world changing pieces of technology concealed in his mind. Perhaps the use of the term manipulate carries negative connotations, but its Latin roots in the term mani is to create using the hands, such as in the word manifest. In this sense, Jobs used what his staff termed as “the reality distortion field” to charismatically persuade his team of “A Players” to help turn his visions into reality. In a twist of irony, despite loving the book, I probably wouldn’t love the bloke owing to his self-serving nature and possession of complete control over his universe; but then, so were fellow cultural architects like Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo Da Vinci. For all his flaws, you can’t argue that the man was a genius and Isaacson truly captures the maverick spirit and flaws of this man in superb detail.

3. Black Box Thinking by Mathew Syed

JJB-Black-Box-ThinkingAs a professional sportsman, fortunate to play for one of the most successful rugby league teams in the modern era, it has been my privilege on many occasions to take medals and trophies into, schools, churches and community clubs to share stories of success and achievement.  Without a single doubt however, my most successful and valuable lessons in life have come not through the successes but the road to them, through hardship and adversity. There’s nothing that builds character more and purifies you than being plunged into refiner’s fire (a Biblical reference from Proverbs 17 for those who are interested) and in my experience, success comes primarily from how well you deal with the challenges ahead. 

Mathew Syed has done some fantastic work in both his previous book Bounce and in this instalment, both of which examine some of the hidden logic behind human success.  He pushes the idea in Black Box Thinking that people who succeed are the ones who learn best from their mistakes.  Humanity, for the most part, avoids pain and runs toward pleasure but the hurtful lessons are the ones that help us take strides if we have the courage to face them head on. He uses aviation – one of the world’s safest industries – as a body which has studies horrific air disasters as not just a tragedy but a learning opportunity so as to never let it happen again. Syed adds verisimilitude to Winston Churchill’s idea that the definition of success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm through his work, and illustrates it with accessible terminology that is both inspiring and intriguing.

4. Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

JJB-OutliersMalcom Gladwell is very much like Syed in that he searches out the hidden reasons as to why people become who they are. Whilst Black Box Thinking delves heavily into closed loop organisations and institutional paradigms, Gladwell moves through the life of someone we might perceive as successful, and asks “Just what was it was on their journey that moulded them? How did they stand out? Why did they become an Outlier?”.

He takes a man like Jobs and look at some of the external factors that may have shaped him into the shrewd business genius he became. In a society which encourages us all to be “average” to a point, Outliers points out that such aspirations are uninspiring and not challenging enough. I have always been fascinated with people who behave different, act different and think different because, when it comes to progress, they are the ones who stretch the boundaries and take humanity into unseen territory. As I said before, I believe we are all made in God’s image, so every new person to me is potentially a superhero. They just need to understand that they have a gift that no one else is in possession of and that they shouldn’t be scared of using it to the full – especially if it helps others.

5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo

JJB-Tidying-UpThis is, perhaps, rather niche for me, but it is exactly what it says on the tin; a practical book about tidying by a Japanese author.  The first half of this book deals primarily with the process of throwing away all those hoarded items in our life which, despite having very little functional or emotional relevance, we just can’t bring ourselves to throw away.  The other half deals with the possessions we need and suggests ideas and patterns of how to store and manage them in a way that serves us not hinders us. If my first choice The Bible is a bringer of spiritual life, then this is the perfect, proverbial book end to my selections, as it discusses and manages material death – or what science would call entropy. Whilst playing rugby league I would often – especially in 2016 – find myself on the wrong end of a score line, stood under my own goal post, having just conceded. This would be followed by a very strange, intuitive feeling, that the answer to many of my problems would be to throw away my possessions and start afresh. I have no real idea what such thoughts necessarily represent, but without getting all new age and Zen-friendly, I think that energy had a lot to do with it.

Entropy is a scientific law which basically says that all the organic matter in the world will eventually die, whilst the inorganic matter in the universe will continue degrade into a further state of disorder. The material things we own rust, get scratched, break, tear, get old and need maintaining until their inevitable end. Managing this requires attention, or emotional energy, and action, or physical energy. The less we own, the less energy these material things can take from us. For the things we, subjectively, can’t do without, the next best thing is to create order, and tidying our spaces, both mentally and physically, is a fine way to do it. Kondo is a guru in decluttering and tidying the things we own.  She gives some real practical methods of doing both in a way that represents an interesting Japanese culture, yet can still be applied in a transcontinental fashion back to Yorkshire. For me this practical, secular message gives clarity on some biblical stories where rooms or courts are “cleared”, moments before an important message or miracle takes place – to draw a conclusive definition, it is important to know that in order to maximise your potential in life, you first have to create a clearer pathway to the messages you follow.