Although we are part of the animal kingdom, we occupy a unique position in life. For we are not only creations, but creators. And we are wonderful creators. That is, we have created wonders such as the great Pyramid of Giza, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Greece’s Acropolis, Peru’s Machu Picchu, the Angkor Wat Buddhist temples in Cambodia, the temples and Pagodas of Bagan, Myanmar; Hagia Sophia (“Church of the Holy Wisdom”) in Istanbul, Turkey; the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates; the elegant Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Some of these marvels are ancient and are crumbling. Eventually, all will fade away. But perhaps, the most enduring wonder, and the greatest treasure of all, is the world of books. Books are the golden key that unlocks the wisdom of the ages, sages, and mages. Or, in more down-to-earth language, “You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.” (Charlie “Tremendous” Jones)
During our time off, there are many ways we can spend time, such as by taking a walk, playing chess, or painting, but “Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill up its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors.” (Joseph Addison, 1672~1719, British essayist, poet, and statesman)
When one recognizes the value of books, it is easy to understand why we would be horrified by the many book burnings that were carried out throughout history. Just to give three examples, in 213 B.C. Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the burning of philosophy and history books; in roughly 640, the infamous destruction of the Library of Alexandria took place. And more recently, in 1992, the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina was firebombed and destroyed by Serbian nationalists. More than 1.5 million books, including 4,000 rare books, 478 bound manuscripts, and 100 years of Bosnian newspapers and journals were lost.
Yet, perhaps the greatest crime of all is to have free access to all the world’s great books and not read them, which is what is going on in the United States. Here are some of the abhorrent statistics:
1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57 percent of new books are not read to completion.
(Source: Jerold Jenkins, www.JenkinsGroupInc.com)
Although the above statistics are somewhat dated, according to its annual survey of American reading habits, the National Endowment for the Arts announced that 54.3 percent of American adults read a book for pleasure in 2008, down from 56.6 percent in 2002, so the trend is unfavorable. In fact, so few people are reading books that you can become an expert merely by reading five books on the same subject. Would you like to be in the top 25% of the world’s intellectuals? If so, all you have to do is read one book a month every year. How difficult is that? Well, if you read 15 minutes a day, every day for a year, you will have completed, depending on their size, 12~20 books.
Yes, the United States does publish more than 170,000 new titles a year, but 95% of the books are purchased by only 5% of the people. Moreover, despite having a population 5X greater than the U.K., there are 20% more titles published each year in England than in the U.S. Also, new titles in the U.K. rose by 28 per cent in 2005~6, while they fell by 18 per cent in the U.S.
THE VALUE OF BOOKS
1. Books are patient teachers, willingly sharing the wisdom of our contemporaries and forefathers. “Books are masters who instruct us without rods or ferules (sticks, canes or paddles used to punish children) without words (criticism) or anger, without bread or money. If you approach them, they are not asleep; if you seek them, they do not hide; if you blunder, they do not scold; if you are ignorant, they do not laugh at you.”
(Richard De Bury, 1287~1345, British chancellor).
2. Our future depends on what we read after graduating from school. Real learning starts after graduation and is found in the books we read.
3. Imagine meeting Albert Einstein, Marcus Aurelius, or Buddha. We can meet them all and countless others. Philosophers, spiritual teachers, scientists, poets, and every type of historical figure invite us to join them in the world of books. “Books are the true levelers. They give to all, who faithfully use them, the society, the spiritual presence, and the best and greatest of our race.” (William Ellery Channing, 1780~1842)
4. A good book teaches us about every aspect of life, the strengths and foibles, the rise and fall of humanity. It introduces us to beauty, truth, and wisdom. Good books are manuals that guide us to the path of success and happiness.
5. Books teach us by example how to powerfully express ourselves through language.
6. Reading destroys loneliness, for when we are surrounded by books, we will always have friends to delight, comfort, guide, instruct, and inspire us.
7. Books are the gateway to the greatest adventure of all: self- discovery. “Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.” (Marcel Proust, 1871~1922)
8. Because of the knowledge books grant their readers, and because of the small number of book lovers, today’s readers will become tomorrow’s leaders.
9. When circumstances prevent you from traveling, books will whisk you off to a far-off land, yet undreamt of paradise, or a Shangri-La of unimaginable beauty.
10. The world of books will provide you with a sanctuary where you can escape from the chaos, confusion, and clamor of everyday life.
11. Books broaden your perspective by providing a sweeping vista of the entirety of human experience. “To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” (Professor Anthony Clifford Grayling, Birkbeck, University of London)
12. “Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own.” (Charles Scribner, Jr., 1921~1995)
13. Would that we all would appreciate books to the extent that Desiderius Erasmus (c.1466~1536) did, for he wrote, “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.”
14. According to a 2009 Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, reading could decrease the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
15. Bibliotherapy is a modern form of treatment utilized to treat non-emergency mental illness. In the United Kingdom, bibliotherapy is a suggested treatment practiced by many therapists to treat patients with depression and other mood disorders. This unique therapy works by getting the patient to read prescribed self-help books that address their illness.
HOW TO READ BOOKS
1. My favorite piece of advice on how to read books was given by Francis Bacon (1561~1626): “Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.”
2. “Read nothing that you do not care to remember, and remember nothing you do not mean to use.” (John Stuart Blackie, aka Professor Blackie, 1809~1895)
3. “It is well to read everything of something, and something of everything.” (Lord Henry P. Brougham, 1778~1868)
4. Apply what you learn. Don’t expect self-help books to work if you don’t.
5. Plan your reading and read with a purpose.
WORDS OF ADVICE ABOUT READING
1. Don’t neglect reading books that were written before you were born or earlier. All books, regardless of their age, are new when read for the first time.
2. “A good book, in the language of the book-sellers, is a salable one; in that of the curious, a scarce one; in that of men of sense, a useful and instructive one.” (Oswald Chambers, 1874~1917)
3. “Books, like friends, should be few and well chosen. Like friends, too, we should return to them again and again for, like true friends, they will never fail us — never cease to instruct — never cloy.” (Charles Caleb Colton, 1780~1832) As Charles Caleb Colton suggests, we should reread good books several times during our lifetime, An important reason for doing so is we are no longer the same person when we reread it, so each new reading will provide fresh insights.
4. Build a personal library of your favorite books so you will be able to follow the advice of (William) Robertson Davies(1913~1995) “A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.”
5. With the vast number of books available, choose what you read carefully. Why spend time poring over useless information when you could use the same time to grow in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom?
6. Potentially, books are treasures, but one that is shut is nothing but a doorstop.
7. If we fail to read good books, how are we any better than an illiterate person?
8. Sometimes one reads a book on procrastination in order to procrastinate! Don’t use reading as an excuse to avoid responsibilities.
9. “It is better to read a little and ponder a lot than to read a lot and ponder a little.” Denis Parsons Burkitt (1911~1993)
10. Read one book at a time. To learn efficiently, it is better to focus on one subject at a time. If we try to read several books at once, we divide our attention, absorbing less material from each book.
11. “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” (P. J. O’Rourke) I couldn’t resist including this humorous quote, which applies to Elvis Presley. You see, despite his ignoble death (a drug overdose in his bathroom), it became noble because of what he was reading at the time of his death, which was the spiritual classic, The Impersonal Life, DeVorss Publications, 1969.
Just as we can judge people by the company they keep, we can learn more about them by the books they read. And whenever you meet bright people and wish to become more like them, find out what books they read.
You probably agree with Marcus Tullius Cicero (106~43 BC) that “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” To enjoy the benefits of reading at little cost, get a library card. And if you already have one, use it more often.
Also, may we all enjoy TV as much as Groucho Marx (1890~1977) who said, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
Finally, we writers at Personal-Development.com only begin our articles. You readers finish them. For that we thank you.