The Books Behind the Brains

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I rarely pass a bookshelf without pausing for a quick inventory of its contents and I’m never disappointed. “That looks like a good one!,” I might say to the shelf’s owner, inviting a little chat around whatever topic or issue might emerge. Inquiring about books has always been a path to pleasant conversation and to get ideas for my next read.

Recently I’ve noticed that when I see some luminary being interviewed through Zoom on the news, they often have a bookshelf behind them. I automatically jump up to get a closer look, tilting my head and squinting to see the spines of what they’ve been reading.

Apparently, many informed thinkers and analysts feel that being interviewed on national news calls for a backdrop of their personal reading histories. It seems that their book collections are a prideful source of personal validation. The bookshelves behind them are like their intellectual scrapbooks, the icons of past engagements, the launchpads of their thoughts.

The personal impact of some of those books no doubt faded quickly. Other books on those shelves surely delivered valuable insight that endured and refined the reader’s expertise about the world, expanding in value as their carefully composed messages are blended with books read previously or since. And it’s certain that many of the world’s top thinkers, decision makers and leaders have been propelled by the books they’ve read, and they keep and display them as valued treasures. Indeed, each book shown offers mute testimony regarding how these people have invested in their intellects, adding otherwise unavailable, powerful experiences that helped to refine their personal characters, enhancing their problem solving abilities, boosting their mental growth and strengthening their judgement.

Consider this: if readers enjoy just 10 books per year over their lifetimes–beginning at birth–they might accumulate 700 or more books, each one contributing to their understanding of life and the world, and supporting their ability to ever more effectively share their opinions with others.

When children have books to call their own, they learn to see themselves as readers long before they can actually decipher letters and words. Children who have access to an abundance of books throughout their early years will have already mastered a fundamental key to school success before kindergarten, knowing how to use books to build knowledge.

To help children get the most from the books in their home, it is helpful to think about where to keep them, like in a basket or box, or on shelves that are in plain sight and easy to reach. Making a special place for books helps children know that books have an important place in their journey to lifelong learning.

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