It Happens All the Time

More on the books that changed people’s lives as described by Canfield and Hendricks in You’ve Got to Read This Book! An overwhelming majority of the changes brought about by books were in a person’s beliefs, commitments, or intentions to act. In addition, each such change was usually preceded by a dilemma in the person’s life that the book dealt with and offered a solution.

Ten readers described relatively specific changes the book motivated them to undertake including being more sociable or goal directed and, in the case of five individuals, emphasizing the importance of controlling the course of one’s life and taking responsibility for one’s actions.

I pulled it [Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz] off the shelf, started reading, and found it was easy to read and made a lot of sense. It took the book home and read it cover to cover, and then started again at the beginning. One message stood out for me: You are in control of your destiny. Your mind is very powerful; what you think is your reality. Rudy Ruettiger

Fifteen readers described a wide range of effects including “lightening up,” “doing what is right,” trusting your instincts or desires, taking risks and being more courageous. The most frequently noted effects were spiritual/cognitive changes that were noted by 17 contributors. Gaining understanding or insight about an event in their life was the most often mentioned (8), followed closely by those who turned toward a more spiritual life (7) with 2 individuals reporting a book that helped them to “find the real me” or gain a greater sense of their own identity.

I had been trying to control things that were fundamental uncontrollable and the cost had been the moment-by-moment disruption of my peace of mind. …But now with the help of Epictetus [The Book of Life] I realized the pointlessness of trying to control my emotions. They have a life of their own, and they will last as long as they last. Applying the wisdom Epictetus conveys in his first sentence, I relaxed my resistance, letting go of my effort to wish my feelings away….That brief moment in time exerted such a powerful positive influence on me that it has affected the way I live my life and practice my profession ever since. Gay Hendricks

In spite of their limited representativeness, these anecdotal accounts leave little doubt that books can be powerful agents of change for a wide range of individuals. It is also abundantly clear that a multiplicity of books can have this effect--from the Sears Catalogue to, Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer, Don Quixote to Homer’s Odyssey and Aristotle’s Ethics. This indicates that whatever influence the experience of reading a book might have, it will be highly idiosyncratic.

The wide range in the age when an influential book is read is also evident from these accounts. Readers recalled books that they read early in their childhood, adolescence and throughout their adult life. In addition, most indicated they were surprised by the book’s impact; it was unexpected, more a matter of happenstance than one intentionally planned. In this respect the experience of reading an influential book is much like the process that occurs when any kind of fortuitous event alters behavior.

You never know when it will happen or what book will have this effect. The only thing you can do is keep reading. Perhaps one day a book will meet you right where you are and point you in a new direction. We don’t often think that a book can change a person’s life but it seems to happen all the time.