As many books as I’ve read since Mrs. George first awoke my interest in reading nearly fifty years ago in fifth grade, that’s a hard task. But I tried, and I came up with the following ten books that I think have most influenced my life.
10. Random House’s Landmark Books series. These were the books that I started reading in fifth grade, and they gave me an abiding interest in American history and biography. Although they’re old now, you can often still find them, and for young readers there are none better.
9. Call Me Charley by Jesse C. Jackson. (No, the author was no relation to the political activist.) This book about a little black boy who moves into a white neighborhood and is befriended by a white classmate gave me sympathetic insights into racial biases.
8. The Power of a Positive Mental Attitude by W. Clement Stone. A college professor’s recommendation led me to this book, which greatly helped me deal with negativity and a poor self-concept. Hearing the author speak only increased his book’s influence on my later teaching and writing careers. I’ve read the book numerous times since.
7. Forever My Love by Margaret Hardisty. My future father-in-law gave me this valuable book shortly before I married his daughter, and it helped both my wife and me understand one another better–thereby making his job as father-in-law easier, I’m sure.
6. Dare to Discipline by James Dobson. This classic by the founder of Focus on the Family proved invaluable not only in rearing our four daughters but also in the school classroom. Not having to deal with discipline problems makes it a lot easier and more fun to teach both life lessons and the enjoyment of history.
5. The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart. This book proved indispensable to my teaching and writing careers. It taught me to believe that if Stuart could overcome great obstacles to succeed as a teacher and a writer, I could certainly overcome my puny (by contrast) problems.
4. On Writing Well by William Zinsser. If Stuart’s Thread provided the motivation for my writing, Zinsser provided the advice on correctness necessary to communicate my thoughts in writing. Rereading this book is always a helpful reminder of how to write right.
3. The On-Purpose Person by Kevin McCarthy. This book helped me focus my efforts on my true priorities and helped me avoid wasting (or allowing others to waste) my precious time. My asking, “What is the purpose of your call?” has left many telemarketers speechless, giving me an opening to say, “I’m on the do-not-call list. Please remove my name from your list, or I’ll report you!”
2. Do Right! by Bob Jones Sr. This book was required reading in my freshman year of college, and that assignment was one of the best of my college years. It is a compilation of short, practical life lessons based on pithy little sayings, like “Finish the job,” “It’s never right to do wrong,” and “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate.”
1. The Bible by God. Without question, this book has had the greatest influence on every area of my life–not only for the here-and-now but also (and most importantly) for the hereafter. Many of the principles included in the other nine books are derived–whether or not the authors knew it when they wrote them–from the Bible. Of all books, it deserves to be read regularly and repeatedly because it contains far more than we’ll ever be able to learn.
But (to borrow a phrase from LeVar Burton and Reading Rainbow), “Don’t take my word for it”–read these books for yourself, and see how they can influence your own life as they have mine.