Maybe I’m old fashioned. Maybe I’m out of style. Maybe I’m the hipster culture’s worst nightmare. But I still think books make a difference.
David Brooks’s piece in the New York Times cites another study that shows the power of print. When students take books home for the summer, the impact is as great as attending summer school–aligning with the 27-country study I mentioned here previously.
Brooks makes the interesting point though, that books not only improve our thinking or reading abilities, books make us into different people. They shape not only how we see the world but how we see ourselves. We gain an identity as a learner or science fiction fan or lover of history or maybe just as a reader.
Books help make us who we are. And I think that’s a good thing.
4 thoughts on “Who Do Books Make Us?”
Andy, I’m at Lake Freemont. I brought three IVP books with me. I finished reading Basic Christian, the John Stott bio. What a challenge to read about the man and his impact on the church worldwide. Both the man, his books and his exposition of II Timothy at Urbana 67 have had a profound influence on my life over the last 43 years. Books do shape us and our thinking.
To underscore your point, Andy and Paul, let me add this book review:
Last month one audacious book grabbed me by its title and would not let me go: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. From its very first page I am transported, virtually, with author John Wood, on a 21-day trek through the Himalayas. He encounters this mountain village in Nepal, seven hours off the well-beaten path to Everest. Its school of 450 kids has but four books between them. These castoffs from fellow trekkers are kept in a locked cabinet, physically and intellectually inaccessible to the illiterate Nepalese youth. Wood is about to trek on, when the school headmaster shares his desire to “inculcate” in their students the habit of reading. Wood is transfixed by the man’s simple plea: “Perhaps, sir, you will someday come back with books.”
John Wood has an epiphany. The whole world, physically and figuratively, lay before him. It was plainly accessible thanks to the reading habit his parents had inculcated into him early on. He had grown up in a resource-rich suburb of NYC and had his book-learning ways paid for through college and grad school, as had I. (I am equally grateful for this same cultural heritage.)
Wood promises to come back and bring 200-300 books. By hook or by crook—and by yak—he will keep that pledge. By accepting that headmaster’s challenge, little did John Wood know how much his life would be changed. By 2007, eight years after his soul-searching Everest trek, the lives of one million children would also be changed forever, thanks to a phenomenal nonprofit that would give them “room to read” (with schools and books).
My life would be changed, too, once I got more into this one book. Therein I engage this riveting social entrepreneur’s odyssey, climbing mountainous obstacles or thriving post-tsunami in SE Asia—all in an attempt to raise sufficient capital and build an amazing global network and educate more kids. Eventually the reproducible and scalable brand of Room to Read becomes “the Microsoft of nonprofits.”
The author moves us through the grinding poverty of Third World villages to the boardrooms of foundations and media outlets in the West. En route, we meet young girls who get ahead, thanks to a basic education provided by donors who appreciate how central and overlooked their education is. Raise a girl to read, and you raise the next family to read.
Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, in 24 riveting chapters, unveils very practically the story of how one small charity starts up and expands. With unwavering passion and singular vision in multiple countries, Room to Read had established 5000 libraries and 400 schools by 2007 (eight years since inception). According to their website, this creative agency, with its partners, will build 10,000 schools in ten years and educate 10 million kids by 2015. By 2009, Room to Read was establishing six libraries per day.
What philanthropist Carnegie Mellon did late in life for libraries across North America, and what Bill Gates is doing in his retirement years to eradicate certain infectious diseases in Africa, this young social entrepreneur John Wood (now in his 40’s) is doing for libraries throughout the Developing World.
Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the tip, Dietrich.
“Books make us into different people.”
This is exactly the premise of one of my favorite books on literary criticism, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction by Wayne C. Booth of the University of Chicago.
The link to the book at Amazon is
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