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
1). What book made
the greatest difference in your life?
2). What was that
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.
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
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
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?
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
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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