Our lives basically change in two ways – the people we meet and the books we read.

My friend, the late Charles “Tremendous” Jones shared this notion with me several years ago, and as an author, I took it as both a compliment and a challenge.

In fact, I thought it was so powerful that I use it in all my speeches.

And I have first-hand experience on the importance of books in our lives.  My first book, “Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive” sold a lot of copies.  But the best part was the feedback from readers:  Thousands told me the book has changed their lives. Again, I am both honored and daunted.  That was an enormous responsibility to assume.

Let me share the biggest secret of a really life-changing book:  If you have found a book that taught you a tremendous amount, you need to go back and read that book three, five, seven and 10 years later after you’ve had different experiences.  It is not enough to simply read a motivational self-help book.  You have to study it, underline it, highlight it and take notes.  Good books should never be put away permanently.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a paper-and-ink fan or a Kindle/Nook devotee, books are your ticket to places you can only dream of.  A good read can stretch your imagination and spark your creativity.  Books inspire, comfort, teach and entertain.  Inscribed on the Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress are the first eight words of a quotation by famed American author Henry David Thoreau, “Books are the treasured wealth of the world …”

Reading researcher Kylene Beers of Yale University says something happens to U.S. kids as they make their way through school.  “About 100 percent of first-graders walk in on the first day and are interested in this thing called reading,” she says. “Eighty percent of graduating
high school seniors tell us they will never again voluntarily read another book.”

J. K. Rowling is credited with reviving the interest in reading with the fabulously popular Harry Potter series, and the Twilight books hooked legions of fans.  There is no lack of good reading material.  And yet statistics tell us that the average person reads just three books a year.

Three books!  Not only am I an advocate of reading everything I can get my hands on, I am a huge proponent of lifelong learning.  When your career or family schedules preclude enrolling in a class, books provide another avenue.  Read to expand your mind.  Read for fun.  Read because you are interested in something – and read to become more interesting.  You’ll never waste your time if you are reading!

American writer Clarence Day said, “The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man.  Nothing else that he builds ever lasts.  Monuments fall; nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others.  But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.”

Individuals read to live life to its fullest, to earn a living, to understand what is going on in the world, and to benefit from the accumulated knowledge of civilization, according to a U.S. Department of Education study by Bernice Cullinan of New York University.  Even the benefits of democracy and the capacity to govern ourselves successfully depend on reading.

Another angle on the benefits of reading good books came from the late Norman Cousins, editor and writer for the Saturday Review, who said:  “There is a simple non-medical technique for increasing longevity.  This system goes by the name of ‘book.’  Through it, man can live hundreds of lifetimes in one.

“What is more, he may enjoy fabulous options.  He can live in any age of his choosing.  He can take possession of an experience.  He can live inside the mind of any man who has recorded an interesting thought, any man who has opened up new slices of knowledge, any man who has engaged in depths of feeling or awareness beyond the scope of most mortals.  This is what good books are all about.”


Mackay’s Moral:  A person without knowledge is like a house without a foundation.


About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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