Books·My Life In Books

7 books that had Terry O'Reilly under their influence

Terry O'Reilly shares 7 books that shaped his life and work.
Terry O'Reilly is the host of CBC's Under The Influence and the author of This I Know: Marketing Lessons from Under the Influence. (CBC)

In his hit CBC Radio show Under the Influence, Terry O'Reilly demystifies the world of marketing and advertising through telling amazing true stories — a technique he carries through to his latest book, This I Know: Marketing Lessons from Under the Influence.

Here, O'Reilly shares seven books that influenced his life and work.

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies 

Robertson Davies was a Governor General's Literary Award winner and a Companion of the Order of Canada. (Penguin Classics)

"This is the only book I've read three times, at three different points in my life. As I grow older, Robertson Davies' Fifth Business has affected me more and more profoundly. At its essence, it's about how corrosive guilt can be. A childhood mistake sets the novel in motion and that mistake haunts at least four characters as they grow into adulthood. The denouement is absolutely riveting. It is a snapshot fixed and framed in my mind. Why this hasn't been made into a remarkable motion picture is a complete and utter mystery to me."

Careless Love and Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick

Peter Guralnick is a music critic who specialises in the early history of rock'n'roll. (Back Bay Books)

I am a nonfiction reader, as a rule. Biographies are a big part of my diet. I'm endlessly curious about people. The best biography I have ever read is the two-volume set on Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick, comprised of Careless Love and Last Train to Memphis. The research is stellar and the beat-by-beat storyline is fascinating, but it's the wonderful writing that possesses you. While Elvis has often become a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich punchline in pop culture, you can't help but have enormous empathy for him because of the way Guralnick takes you on this journey.

Letters from a Nut by Ted L. Nancy

Ted L. Nancy aka Barry Marder is a stand-up comedian and writer.

"Letters from a Nut made me laugh harder than any other book I have ever read. I made snorting noises, ultrasonic squeals and laughed until I actually blacked out for a moment there. The left side of every page is a crazy but seriously written letter to a company and the opposite page is the company's response. First, the author's (pseudonymous) name is subversively funny, as each response must therefore begin with "Dear Mr. Nancy." It never gets old. When Mr. Nancy writes a hotel to ask if he can bring his own bathtub (NO!) or if he can donate nine fingernail clippings from Mickey Mantle to the Baseball Hall of Fame (YES!) the correspondence is brilliant and sidesplitting and — get this — real. These are genuine letters to and from real corporations. Genius."

The Way of the Fight by Georges St. Pierre

George St. Pierre is a Canadian mixed martial artist and a three-time former Welterweight Champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. (UFC/HarperCollins Publishers )

"Georges St. Pierre's book The Way of the Fight is not really about fighting. It's about strategy. St. Pierre is simply the best martial artist I have ever seen. Most fighters have a half-dozen signature moves; St. Pierre has about 45. But after reading this book, you realize those tools come from thinking, not brutality. St. Pierre is a surprisingly thoughtful athlete. He maintains what he calls a 'white belt mentality' — in other words, he is always open to learning. It's a philosophy I subscribe to — and it's why I read every single day. St. Pierre makes a fascinating prediction about the future of mixed martial arts — saying fighters will become smaller. They will rely less on power and more on the 'art' in martial arts. In other words: Strategy. This book can be applied to marketing in a heartbeat. My alternate title: The Way of the Brand."

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Ed Catmull is the president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios. (Deborah Coleman/Random House Canada )

​"This incredible book explores the mysterious voodoo of managing creative people. Ed Catmull is the president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios. In Creativity, Inc., he correctly says managing creativity is like 'trying to do a triple backflip in a gale force wind and trying to stick the landing.' Yet the level of creativity at his company is jaw-droppingly consistent. As someone who has managed creative people for most of my career, I feasted on Catmull's thoughtful ideas on nurturing a creative culture. He articulates what is so fiendishly difficult for a manager to do: Not to prevent risks, but to make it safe to take them."

The Best of James Herriot by James Herriot

James Heriott was a veterinary surgeon and writer, whose stories were often about animals and their owners. (Reader's Digest)

"What astounds me about James Herriot is that he didn't start writing until he was 50. How can a talent this large wait so patiently to begin? The Best of James Herriot is a collection of small, gorgeous, heartfelt stories of a small country vet toiling in the north of England in the 1940s. I remember reading this in bed each night and my wife turning her head in wonder to look at me as I laughed hysterically one moment, then blubbered the next. Life was so hard and so unrelenting back in those days, yet I yearn to have walked those dales with Herriot when I read his remarkable words."

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Lee was a Pulitzer Prize winning author, best known for her classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird. (Grand Central Publishing)

"To Kill a Mockingbird may be the bookend to Fifth Business for me. I realize as I write this that I have some kind of pull to stories that pivot on tragic childhood incidents. I don't know how to interpret that. I really don't. But the impact on my heart has been indelible. Then there's the beautiful notion that may have inspired Harper to write this story — what terrifies the children most ends up saving their lives. This book is so important to me that I made a pilgrimage to Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, the year before she died. Saw the simple bungalow Harper lived in. Stood in the courthouse. Stared at the spooky house that inspired the Boo Radley residence. Magical."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.