Reading The Hobbit makes me want to drink tea. So does Jane Austen. And Tolstoy. I suppose it’s just the power of suggestion, but I wonder how much deeper this influence goes.
One book that had a great impact on me was Cheaper by the Dozen. I must have been in middle school when I first read it. The father, Frank Gilbreth, was an efficiency engineer, and I have been obsessed with efficiency most of my life. He invented a concept called Therbligs (Gilbreth spelled backwards, almost.) I wish I could quote the exact passage, but my copy is still in a box in my living room, but here’s what I remember:
A therblig is a unit of action. So, if you are combing your hair, the first therblig is to locate the comb, the second is to move your hand to the comb, the third is to grasp the comb, the fourth is to lift the comb, etc. Obsessing over the distance between tools and color-coding items helped me a lot when I worked at Starbucks. I think I’ve mellowed a bit, because I no longer get so frustrated when things aren’t organized efficiently, or traffic doesn’t behave the way it should. Still, having read Cheaper by the Dozen when I was young had a strong influence over my behavior well into my 20s.
This worries me because I wonder how other books have influenced me in ways I haven’t noticed. I read Jane Eyre recently, and it struck me how awkward Mr. Rochester is. I wasn’t able to judge his awkwardness when I was young, so did that set me up to respond to awkwardness as normal and normal social cues as odd? I’ll probably never know.
Back to my tea.