It was my birthday. I'd asked for one thing: a book called Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton.
My sister handed me a suspiciously book-shaped present, and I smugly unwrapped it, knowing that I'd be face-to-face with a glossy copy of Dolly's memoir momentarily.
But the book I found in my hands was a pretty average-looking one. It didn't have a big, bold swear word in the title to shock our sensibilities into buying it. It didn't scream with vibrant colour to trick our brains into gravitating towards it.
Even the text looked mundane, like it had been bashed out on a typewriter with teeny-tiny spacing between the sentences and old-school cartoons to hammer home the messaging.
The book was called How To Win Friends and Influence People.
The ye olde anecdotes and examples were the first things that stuck out. It was a much simpler time, my friends.
"I know it isn't the book you wanted, but it's the book you need," my sister told me. I feigned gratitude, nodded and shoved a piece of cake in my mouth.
"But I don't even want any more friends!" I thought. "In fact, friendships is something I've been thinking about cutting back on! I would definitely prefer to win other cool stuff. Like money."
She never tried to convince me to read it. It sat on my kitchen table unapologetically while I busied my life watching The Bachelor and listening to The Handmaid's Tale recaps.
Months later, I was navigating my way through a shit-storm of a career crisis and feeling flat and exhausted.
Instead of sageing the house or eating my feelings, I figured I'd read a book. I needed Mark Manson to drop some truth bombs on me or coax me into some "aha" moments (thanks, Oprah).
And there it was: How To Win Friends and Influence People. "I'm going to damn well read it," I thought.
Partly because I was too lazy to research what books people were raving about, and partly because I genuinely was curious. Fifteen million people have read it - they can't all be wrong, right? So, off I went, reading a book from 1936. This is fine. There was no colour TV in 1936, my grandmother wasn't born, Neil Armstrong hadn't landed on the moon. THIS IS FINE!
The ye olde anecdotes and examples were the first things that stuck out.
It was a much simpler time, my friends: puppies cost 50 cents, Elbert was an actual name of a person, and the word "phooey!" was used several times (which I very much enjoyed and intend to use myself. PHOOEY!) Then, it happened. I couldn't put the damn thing down. Instead of grabbing my phone in the morning, I grabbed the book.
Here are a few sentiments I took away from the book that you can use in literally the next conversation you have (seriously, try it):
Make an effort to use someone's name. People bloody love it.
No more calling people "babe", "lovely" or "jackass" - use the name they were (probably) given at birth. It's the "sweetest and most important sound in any language".
Don't "word vomit" all your problems to people.
Or recite your hopes and dreams all the time. Let them talk for a sec! Even if it's sitting through 10 minutes of meal-prep chat. Don't just constantly project - listen.
"The best way to win an argument is to avoid one."
Oh? Not jumping into defence mode or boiling up like a little kettle full of rage? No.
Because, generally speaking, you're mostly likely going to wind up with two hot-heads firmly convinced that their argument is the right one.
Essentially, it's good old-fashioned not-being-an-arsehat which is (I would argue) almost more relevant in today's narcissistic, selfie-fuelled, reality TV-lovin' world.
The fact is, How To Win Friends and Influence People's principles are of sound simplicity.
When you lay them all out in front of you, you almost feel a bit dumb for being so moved and motivated by the writing, because it's mostly commonsense.
It's a textbook in human interactions and the foundation of what our self-development movement is built on.
One more thing. Chapter 3: "If you're wrong, admit it."
I can graciously admit I was wrong about this book, and fully admit that, yes, I absolutely did judge a book by its cover.
Riley-Rose Harper is an announcer at Southern Cross Austereo