You Are What You Read: Theory of 5 Books (2015)

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said “you are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with”, which of course, suggests that ultimately those who you hang around with the most have a significant impact on the kind of person you become. I am not here to prove or disprove this perspective; undoubtedly our environment – this includes people – shapes us. However, this theory did get me thinking beyond just the friendship circle(s) that we form. I mean, most of us don’t have a Friend’s sitcom café hang out, where we can seemingly negate our life responsibilities and entertain the world with our antics. Nor are our friendships as fixed as the above idiom would have you believe. I recently caught up with a group of my friends of over 10 years, some who I hadn’t seen in a year or two, but it was just like old times. I began to think, well, I don’t spend that much time with the same 5 people. I further thought to myself, what do I spend a lot of time with? Answer: books! Maybe this is only highlighting my own social awkwardness and apparent introversion. How I often form greater attachments with books than I do people. How, when I have experienced the most challenging points in my life, I have often turned to excerpts from certain books as support, before I have turned to people. Or how, in a previous relationship, the book I bought my then girlfriend – yes I have had one thank you very much  – who actually refused to read it, then went out of print and became a collectible. Luckily, I was able to get my hands on my own copy once more.

 I believe you are what you read. And so, as I seem to spend so much time with books, it led me to arrive at what I call “the theory of 5 books”. That essentially, you are an amalgam of the 5 books that you read or return to the most. I’ll tell you how it began. Like most things it began with a girl (or a guy, transgender, or whomsoever impacts your heart). When we first met, I was quite taken in by her love of books and reading. I found this quite endearing and began to already imagine times where we would be sat, entwined on the sofa, TV switched off – would we even have one? Probably not – in an absolute comfortable silence reading separately, together. The problem arose though, when we spoke about what kind of books we liked. I was very much into my political books and historical fictions, whereas she was quite into her popular mainstream fiction. I’m not passing any judgement on either, but what I realised is it made us fundamentally different. Ultimately, I could not stand her books, and nor could she mine.

 I started then looking at my own reading habits that I had developed over the years, and noticed that year in, year out, there were a core group of books that I returned to and read multiple times in the year. Sometimes, when I read a new book, and if it was good enough, it made the “in group” and knocked another book out. I also noticed how these books helped to fundamentally shape my perspective of the world. Now, I am not negating any influence that we have whether nature or nurture, or the socialisation process, that makes us who we are. I am simply suggesting that, fundamentally, much like the 5 friends we spend most time with, the books we read – and keep reading – have a profound impact on who we are. Not everyone has a 5 book selection. Some people are unfortunately, in a restricted way, limited to a theory of one book. To the point where you can almost guess where all their perspective comes from, however, I find that the most open minded souls, delve far and wide to search for what makes them who they are.

So without further ado, here are my 5 books, in no particular order, that make up my core:

1. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

2. 2000 Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah

3. 1984 by George Orwell

4. An Afrocentic Guide to a Spiritual Union by Ra Un Nefer Amen

5. Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

These books aren’t necessarily my favourite books, but they are my core 5, my starters, my “dream team” or “dream reads”, and they continue to have a significant impact on my world view. It is a diverse selection; one that goes from the personal to the political, from the mental to the spiritual. I would recommend them to anyone. What are your thoughts on the theory of 5 books? And do you have 5 books that make up the core of you? Let me know what they are.