Amy Cuddy: big fan of tales of small towns

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Bob O'Connor

After being in a bad car accident in college, Amy Cuddy was told that the brain injury she suffered in the wreck would keep her from finishing school. The Pennsylvania native not only got her diploma but later earned a PhD in social psychology from Princeton University and became a Harvard Business School professor. She also became a TED talk star in 2012 when she explained how your posture may influence your outlook. Cuddy elaborates on her popular presentation in her new book, "Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges."

BOOKS: What are you reading for yourself?

CUDDY: I really loved "Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town" by Jon Krakauer. I felt Krakauer allowed people to share their stories in a way that was not sensational or gratuitous. It got into mundane details of how women pay a price when they report an assault. I hate to call a book about sexual assault refreshing, but it was.

BOOKS: What else has stuck with you recently?


CUDDY: There is one that is right up my alley research wise, "Friend & Foe" by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer, who both study social power. They capture Malcolm Gladwell's vibe, maybe with a faster pace, but they are actual scientists. I reread Susan Cain's "Quiet." It has changed the lives of people who identify as introverts. In business schools being an introvert used to be a real stigma before this book came out.

BOOKS: What other kind of books do you read?

CUDDY: I have two genres: nonfiction social science and fiction set in small-town America. My favorite is "Plainsong" by Kent Haruf. It's so underappreciated and now he died not long ago. He was a person I really wanted to meet. I love Colorado. He loves that part of the country so much it's in every word that he writes.


BOOKS: Any other books set in small towns that you love?

CUDDY: I haven't read much fiction in such a long time. I once was an insatiable reader. I grew up in a small town in rural America. I would read for eight to 10 hours a day. My parents felt they had to pull me away from it. They'd say it was bad for my eyes.

BOOKS: Did you drift away from fiction in graduate school?

CUDDY: That's exactly what happened. I started feeling that if I was reading it should be related to my program. But honestly I think the doctoral students who read other stuff are more interesting people.

BOOKS: Is your nonfiction reading all work-related?

CUDDY: I think I love what I study enough it doesn't feel like work. There's this group of women writers who independently stumbled on the same theme. First there was "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg. That's an important book, but I'm not on board with all of that. In the last couple of years there was another crop of books about the need not to be fearless but to be brave. Cheryl Strayed, Brene Brown, Susan Cain, Amanda Palmer, and Piper Kerman are all writing about that theme but from different backgrounds. I think Amanda's book, "The Art of Asking," is an especially brave book.

BOOKS: Did your head injury affect your reading?

CUDDY: Yes. I could not process what I was reading. That is one of the most common outcomes of a head injury. Another thing has happened that I find increasingly frustrating. I damaged a nerve that controls the muscles on one side of my face. Now I have double vision vertically and horizontally. I guess I need big-print books. I like audio books OK, but I like holding a book.


BOOKS: Do you have lots of books?

CUDDY: Yes. Here's a weird thing that happens to me. Harvard's business school has these beautiful offices with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. I immediately populated those shelves with books and journals. People ask me why I have books and journals when I can read everything online. I'm a Harvard professor. If I don't have books on my shelves who will?


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