Ask the Author: An Interview with Steven Watts

Local author and professor Steven Watts be giving a talk at the Columbia Public Library this Thursday about his book “Self-Help Messiah.” The book documents the life and times of Dale Carnegie, author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and the dynamic era in which he rose to fame. Here is an interview with the author for a sneak preview of the event.

DBRL: What inspired you to write this book?

SW: Over the last 20 years or so I have been writing biographies of major figures in the shaping of modern American culture, a group that included Walt Disney, Henry Ford and Hugh Hefner. In particular, I have been interested in exploring how a mainstream modern creed of consumerism, personality and self-fulfillment replaced an older Victorian standard of producerism, character and self-control. After completing the Hefner book, I was looking for a new subject when Dale Carnegie rose to the surface. I had taught about him for many years in a couple of my classes at MU, focusing on his popular advice literature in the twentieth century, and his ideas always had formulated vigorous debate, as some students loved him and others hated him. When I looked at the literature, I was surprised to see that no one had written a full-scale biography of this crucial figure in modern American life. So he seemed like a natural choice for my next project.

DBRL: As a library employee, I see “How to Win Friends and Influence People” circulate regularly, which surprises me considering that the book was written almost 80 years ago. Why do you think the book has stayed relevant for so long?
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Classics for Everyone: How to Win Friends and Influence People

Book cover for How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleBook cover for Self-Help Messiah by Dale Carnegie“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” So advised Dale Carnegie, the father of self-help in the United States. His book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” was first published in 1936 and still occasionally generates a waiting list here at the library. This is no small feat in an age when the Next Big Thing crops up approximately every 12 hours.

Carnegie’s life story is as American as it gets. He was a Missouri farm boy turned cultural phenomenon, arriving at that status via a series of sales jobs, stints teaching public speaking in night school, the launch of a leadership training franchise and eventually his best-selling book. He played a major role in the shaping of U.S. society as we know it today, some say for the better and some say for the worse. The truth is probably a mix of the two. Warren Buffet claims to have gained a lot from Carnegie’s teachings, but so does Charles Manson. It may be a case of appropriate versus inappropriate use of tools.

That’s what Carnegie aimed to provide – tools for social interaction. His initial target audience consisted of professionals who struggled with people skills. “How to Win Friends…”contains an agreeable mix of aphorism and anecdote. Along with bits of his own wisdom, the author includes quotes aplenty from other sources: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Buddha, Henry Ford and more.
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Four Books for Your Mother’s Day

Book cover for Listen to Your MotherFlowers, breakfast in bed, finger-painted and glitter-encrusted masterpieces — if you are a mom, you may be the lucky recipient of one of these traditional Mother’s Day gifts. Here at the library, we are also fond of giving the gift of reading (naturally). Here are five books and their publisher’s descriptions that moms might enjoy.

Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now
Irreverent, thought-provoking, hilarious and edgy: a collection of personal stories celebrating motherhood, featuring #1 New York Times bestselling authors Jenny Lawson and Jennifer Weiner, as well as many other notable writers. “Listen to Your Mother” explores why our mothers are important, taking readers on a journey through motherhood in all of its complexity, diversity and humor.

Bettyville” by George Hodgman
A witty, tender memoir of a son’s journey home to care for his irascible mother — a tale of secrets, silences and enduring love. When Hodgman leaves Manhattan for his hometown of Paris, Missouri, he finds himself — an unlikely caretaker and near-lethal cook — in a head-on collision with his aging mother, Betty, a woman of wit and will. Will George lure her into assisted living? When hell freezes over.
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Summertime Cycling Tips

Big Book of CyclingAs the summer months come upon us, it is time to be active outdoors with the whole family! There are few sports that are more family friendly and all-encompassing than bicycling. With our great network of trails and fantastic cycling infrastructure, bicycling is a favorite pastime of many in Mid-Missouri, and from April through October, the trails and roads are crowded with cyclists of all ages. In celebration of National Bike Month (and also Bike, Walk & Wheel Week here in Columbia!), let’s showcase some of the great books the library owns that will keep you pedaling happily through the warm countryside.

First, let’s review safety. Almost two months ago I was taking a spin with some friends near McBaine, Missouri and had a spill on the bike. Although my bike wasn’t hurt too badly, I was pretty banged up. Most especially, my helmet was quite badly broken. The helmet most likely saved my life. For some great tips about bike safety, please see this book published by Bicycling magazine and Rodale Press,  “The Big Book of Bicycling.” The book includes a chapter on safe riding techniques and helmet selection. A great tip: “All helmets sold in the United States meet CPSC safety standards, so a $30 lid is equally as good as a $200 one.”

It’s also very important that kids learn early about bike safety. Confident cycling is one of the most important elements behind safety, and helping your kids ride with confidence will prevent many accidents from happening. The library has some great kids books about cycling, including “Safety on your Bicycle” for the very young readers in your family. With photographs and illustrations provided, including the proper way to put on a helmet, this book is a good starting point for kids. Pednet, Columbia’s homegrown cycling advocacy organization, also offers fantastic beginning bicycling courses for children.
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Ask the Author: An Interview With Svetlana Grobman

Book cover for The Education of a TraitorFor this edition of Ask the Author, I am excited to introduce the library’s very own Svetlana Grobman! If you’re a regular DBRL Next reader, you may have already heard about some of her travel adventures or teared up while reading her post about how libraries can change lives.

Grobman has just published her first full-length book, “The Education of a Traitor,” a memoir describing her experience as a Jewish child coming of age in Russia during the height of the Cold War. The book has been described as “An intimate look at a young woman’s struggle to find her own truth in a repressive society.”

DBRL: In “The Education of a Traitor” you tell of your fear and painful sense of isolation as a child. How much of this fear and pain do you think arose from the prejudice you felt growing up Jewish in an anti-Semitic country, and how much from a family life that might be considered dysfunctional by present-day American standards?

SG: The sense of isolation came from both sources, but it was the society that did most of the damage. As for my family, growing up I never thought about it as dysfunctional. Even now I believe that we were a very average family for that time and place. On the bright side, feeling lonely made me a voracious reader. :)

DBRL: So much of this memoir is vividly told, with compelling details of touch and smell and taste. Considering how many years have passed and how distant you are now, geographically, from your childhood in Russia, why do you think these sensory memories stayed with you?

SG: I think that children feel more acutely than adults, taste wise especially. That’s why children like bland food, and as we age, we need more and more spices. Also, nothing smells as good as it did when you were a child. For example, I planted a lilac tree in my American yard, but it just is not as fragrant as the lilacs from my childhood – or that’s how I feel. :) 
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While the Library Is Closed…

Photo of a sign reading open 24 hoursToday, May 1, the library is closed for staff training, and on Sunday, May 24 and Monday, May 25 we’ll be closed in observance of Memorial Day. While our buildings are closed and the bookmobiles are parked in the garage, don’t forget that the digital branch is always open. Below are just a few of the ways you can use the library this holiday or any day.

photo credit: Tallent Show via photopin cc