How a Book Recommendation Changed My Life
In 1970, a small publisher in Utah released a book called Notes to Myself by Hugh Prather. It was a first book by an unknown writer being supported by a small outfit. Expectations were low.
Yet within one year, with no sales reps, no advertising, no marketing, and only word of mouth, the book sold over a million copies.
Five years later, it changed my life.
It was 1975 and I was young and at a crossroads. Should I become a Catholic priest or the next Ernest Hemingway? Pretty different paths, I know, but I really did want to be both.
But both were challenging.
I struggled to write and I had been spending time with a lovely young woman who made the idea of celibacy seem very unappealing. One day, after listening to me voice my frustrations putting pen to paper, she gave me a copy of Notes to Myself and said, “You really need to read this.”
It turned out she understood me better than I did myself.
I didn’t read the book right away. But one night, while yet again procrastinating and neglecting my own writing, I cracked its spine.
Opening it at random, this is what I read:
“If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing then the desire is not to write.”
I tossed the book across the room. A little spooked, I picked it up again and began reading. The author’s voice spoke to me on every page. I was consumed with it, convinced beyond a doubt that it had been written just for me. I didn’t simply read it: I absorbed it.
A few months later, I went out to buy two copies of the book for friends, grabbed the last two copies from my local bookstore.
I got in line to pay, and nearly knocked over a man carrying a large stack of art books in his arms. I apologized, got to the counter, and told the person ringing me up that I had taken their last two copies of Notes to Myself, and encouraged them to restock.
The clerk asked me if I’ve read the book. I tell her, not only had I read the book - I loved it! “It changed my life,” I said.
Smiling, she suggested I tell the man in line behind me how I felt about it — the gentleman I had bumped into. His name, she told me, was Hugh Prather.
I turned and stared, and like an idiot bellowed out, “I thought you were God!”
Prather was taken aback for a moment but recovered quickly with a grin. He suggested he pay for his books and offered to take me out for a cup of coffee.
We talked for four hours. He was patient, funny, kind, and answered all my questions until I couldn’t think of anymore. Sensing I would like to see him again, he gave me his phone number and encouraged me to call him anytime—and I did. We met many more times after that, and he became a great friend and mentor to me.
Notes to Myself went on to influence a generation, selling millions of copies.
As for me, I never did become a priest or a writer, let alone the next Ernest Hemingway. But it’s okay, thanks to that book, and the friendship that came about because of it, I discovered my career.
I often think about that young woman putting Hugh’s book in my hands, and saying, “You really need to read this.”
I wish I could thank her; she was right.