Recently, I received four new books for my birthday, and each one made me smile. I expect reading them will touch my life in a meaningful way.

Books, especially well-written ones, can impact your life. They guide your thinking, change your mind, serve as a companion, expand your vocabulary, improve your memory, help you focus, teach you a lesson or give you a boost when you are feeling low.

If you think about it, at least one book has affected your life in some significant way. Countless numbers of books have positively influenced my life. Textbooks taught me how to think and prepared me for work. And leisure reading enhances my life.

Getting a library card was one of the first things I did when I moved to Burke County. We have a great library system here.

The library in Morganton reminds me of my childhood library. Large double-entry doors lead to the center circulation desk. On each side of the lobby are reading rooms. One difference is my childhood library had a turnstile to admit readers, and now libraries have electronic anti-theft entrances.

As children, my sister and I walked to the West End Library in Pittsburgh. It was the eighth free-to-the-public library in America funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. One of the first “open stack” libraries, patrons could browse the shelves and choose books they wanted to check out rather than having to ask the librarian to fetch one from the off limits “closed stacks.” Like many libraries started by Carnegie, it had formal architecture with a stairway to a prominent entrance that symbolized a person’s elevation by learning through books.

Books impacted me as a child. They broadened my view of life. I read biographies of famous women like Clara Barton and Eleanor Roosevelt and stories about girls whose lives were very different than mine.

One favorite was “Daddy-Long-Legs,” a 1912 novel written by American writer Jean Webster. An orphaned girl named Judy is sent to college by a benefactor, a man she has never met. Judy must write him a monthly letter, because he believes that letter-writing is important to her development. When I read these letters, as a child, it planted seeds of the possibility of self-improvement.

This past week , I asked family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors if there were any books that greatly impacted their lives.

My physician husband Andy Krouskop quickly responded that the “Boy Scout Handbook” influenced his life as a teenager.

“I learned a lot of camping skills reading the Handbook, and it certainly made camping more fun and safer,” he said. “I also learned basic first-aid skills advancing from rank to rank. It has been noted that 2 to 3 Boy Scouts out of 100 will use the skills learned in scouting to save another individual’s life and 1 out of 100 will use what they learned to save their own life.”

Our neighbor, Margaret Jones, responded that while there was no one specific book that greatly impacted her life, almost all she reads impacts her thought patterns.

“Characters of a different nationality, religion or time period sensitize my thoughts, thus, my actions,” Jones said. “I’ve become a more tolerant person by considering my life has been/is mostly idyllic. Others have been far less fortunate. I am blessed.”

The new minister at First Presbyterian Church, the Rev. John Hagmann, answered, “The Bible, of course.” He also mentioned two titles that have impacted his ministry. Best seller business book, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and “Think Orange” by Reggie Joiner.

“The concept of ‘think orange’ is the impact of when church (yellow equals light) and family (red equals heart) collide and affects the everyday faith life of children,” said Hagmann.

Neighbor Jean Riggs shared her favorites. First is “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.

“It guided my respect for man’s quest for survival regardless of status,” she said. “And ‘The Alchemist’ (by Paulo Coelho) guided me to know I had found my gold through being a high school teacher.”

Friend, Kathy Taber answered that often in her hectic life she chooses books that are soothing and seem friendly.

“I like the Mitford Series books about Father Tim by author Jan Karon,” she said. “Her writing speaks to my heart.”

Interestingly, the setting for the Mitford series is the mountains of western North Carolina. Karon began writing the Father Tim stories for the “Blowing Rocket” newspaper before they became novels. In the back pages of her 2001 book, “Patches of Godlight,” Karon says she writes to “give readers an extended family, and to applaud the extraordinary beauty of ordinary lives.”

Books can affirm or challenge us. But mostly reading should be fun. No one has time to read books that cannot keep your interest.

The amount of time and energy you give to a book is an investment. The return on this investment must be joy: the joy of thinking, the joy of learning or the joy of being blessed by its words.

See you at the library.

Janice Krouskop is a member of the Morganton Writer’s Group.

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