Books Make A Difference

Books that make a difference, last a lifetime

By Sam Johnson

 "The reading experience is so personal, it borders on the intimate. And in a time when identity increasingly is lost, the reading of books may remain as one of the few truly personal acts left to us."
-- Gordon and Patricia Sabine    
    This quote comes from a book called "Books That Made The Difference" which I picked up at an AAUW book sale some years back, and have used repeatedly in my literature classes and book discussion groups.
     The book is the result of a project sponsored by the Center for the Book, an association of the Library of Congress.
To gather data for this book, journalism professor Gordon Sabine and his wife Patricia, an English instructor, traveled around the country for a year asking some 1,500 people two simple questions:
1). What book made the greatest difference in your life?
2). What was that difference?
The answers to these questions are both interesting as well as entertaining, as they come from a variety of famous people and "just plain folk."
But their overall finding is that books do have a powerful and often profound impact on a person's life.

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In some cases, books inspired great deeds or actions, marked milestones or turning points in a person's personal life or professional career.
Some people said that books helped them "overcome obstacles, accept tragedy, and understand themselves."
Especially interesting is the fact that not only did every person interviewed eagerly name a book that had a great impact on them, but that few people listed the same work, though there were a few multiple mentions.
For example, of the 200 books named, the Bible garnished 15 mentions.
Other books that were named more that once included "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau, "Markings" by Dag Hammarskjold, "The Power of Positive Thinking" by Norman Vincent Peale, and "The White Company" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Authors who were mentioned several times but for different works, included Aristotle, Homer, and Erich Fromm. The rest ran the gamut from William Shakespeare to beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Virginia Woolf to Dale Carnegie, and from Franz Kafka to Mark Twain.
An interesting note is that almost no one picked current best sellers.
It seems that those books which create the biggest impact on us, are those books that have endured the test of time
     So, what books do make a difference?
What books should we recommend to our children, our friends?
The conclusion reached by the Sabines is that there really is "no way to predict which books will make a difference, to whom, at what ages, or in what kinds of situations."
However, they do maintain that people who read, will ultimately come upon books that will have a profound impact on them in some way, and that these experiences will happen at different stages of their life and continue throughout it as long as they continue to be readers.
For this reason then, they emphasize the importance of books and "the reading experience," which includes sharing our reading experiences with others.
I mention all this for good reason.
This week, many of us have been celebrating "National Library Week: April 10-16," a week devoted to celebrating our libraries and librarians, and to promoting books and reading and the full utilization of all public and school libraries.
As the Sabine's suggest in their study of "Books That Made The Difference," we can help our children and friends experience meaningful books by suggesting to them titles of books that we found meaningful or that impacted our life is some way.
Public and school librarians will also be happy to provide suggestions, as well as book lists, of works that have "endured the test of time" and been a part of "the reading experience" for many people.
The point is we need to encourage reading, for as the Sabine's indicate, in this hurly-burly society we live in, the "reading of books may remain as one of the few truly personal, and most important acts left to us."

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