Books are keys to stretch imagination and spark creativity

Our lives basically are changed in two ways -- by 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.

I have firsthand 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 had 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.

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 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 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!

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

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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