In Defense of Books

Over the past few months, I have been doing a lot of thinking about reading—particularly about reading books. This was brought to my attention again last week when I interviewed Dr. Ben Carson for a series of video broadcasts on the topic of leadership, which I did for the Chick-fil-A Leadercast.

A Young Boy Reading Outside - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/NickS, Image #2013115

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/NickS

Dr. Carson was raised in extreme poverty by a single mother. As a grade school student, he experienced difficulty academically, eventually falling to the bottom of his class. His mother, who was working two to three jobs, became alarmed. She did not want her sons to drop out of school, believing that education was the only way they would escape a life of poverty.

She began to notice that the wealthy families she worked for watched little television. Instead, they spent their time reading books. As a result, she sold her television and insisted her sons read two library books a week, writing a book report on each one. She would then review the reports, make marks on them, and assign two more books. Several years later, to his surprise, Dr. Carson discovered that his mother couldn’t even read.

In the interview, Dr. Carson said to me, “Everything changed when I began to read. I started to see myself as a smart person who could learn anything. The whole world opened up to me.”

Indeed it did.

He graduated from Yale with a degree in psychology and then went on to medical school at the University of Michigan. He completed an internship in general surgery and a residency in neurological surgery at Johns Hopkins.

Today, Dr. Carson is Professor of Neurosurgery, Oncology, Plastic Surgery, and Pediatrics
at Johns Hopkins. He has authored over 100 neurosurgical publications, along with three best-selling books, and has been awarded 38 honorary doctorate degrees and dozens of national merit citations, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

These would be impressive accomplishments for anyone, but especially so because of his background. And this all happened, according to Dr. Carson, because his mother insisted that he read books.

Despite what many pundits are saying today, reading is not dead, nor are books. Certainly, big changes are underway, especially in the way books are delivered to readers. But reading itself is alive if not altogether well. It is not going away. At least, not any time soon.

I don’t say this as a hopeless Luddite, trying to preserve my own economic interest. At Thomas Nelson, we have embraced digital books. We have led our industry segment in terms of digital delivery. In fact, I personally now consume most of my books in digital form.

But this doesn’t change my commitment to or belief in the value of books. However, in using this term, “books,” I mean something very specific. I am not referring exclusively to ink printed on paper and bound between two covers—that’s simply a delivery mechanism.

Instead, I am referring to long-form, text-based content, regardless of how it is delivered to its audience. A book might be a printed book, a digital book, or even an audio book. Regardless, it is still a book. And, I still believe in the power of books to transform individuals, communities, and, indeed, entire civilizations.

As much as I may enjoy magazine articles, blogs, television broadcasts, and movies, I can’t make the same claim about them. By and large, I don’t believe they have the same kind of transformative impact. Granted, there might be an exception here and there, but the kind of transformation I am talking about requires a more sustained argument—or story. This is precisely what books are designed to deliver.

And, no, they don’t need to be enhanced with multimedia bells and whistles to make them compelling. While this may be useful in certain types of reference works, I don’t think good writing needs it. Great writing definitely doesn’t require it.

This is precisely where I believe book publishers sell short their primary audience. Serious readers—the kind who read several books a month—pride themselves in their ability to follow extended arguments and enroll their imagination in the reading experience.

Most serious readers I know see these other elements as distractions or fluff, primarily designed to seduce non-readers into doing something they would otherwise not do—read a book. While I am all for expanding the market and bringing more non-readers into the fold, I don’t believe we do that by adding multimedia elements to most books.

In fact, I think by doing so, we might actually be sowing the seeds of our own demise. And here I am not speaking just of book publishers; I believe something more important is at stake.

If we can’t engage people in extended conversations that require serious reflection, debate, or story-telling, then our civilization will simply revolve around entertainment. Worse, as Neil Postman noted more than two decades ago, amusement will become the ultimate value against which everything else is measured (see Amusing Ourselves to Death).

I believe the best way to combat this trend is to write and publish the very best books we can. I am not willing to throw in the towel and cave to the latest fad. I do believe our delivery methods can and will change. But I still believe there is great value in long-form, text-based content.

Postscript: By the way, Joel J. Miller, one of our VPs at Thomas Nelson made a similar argument on his blog a few days ago.

Question: Do you agree or disagree?
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  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/jalc6927 jalc6927

    I am in agreement. I had a similar upbringing and my Mother encouraged me to read. I am not a neurosurgeon, but have become successful in my own right. No school could have provided the education that books have given me.

    As for technology, e-books are here and we need to embrace them as a delivery system as you say. Maybe there is a place for multimedia in books. Children's books can use this to keep the kids entertained while they learn to read. Self-help books may be able to use short video clips to help explain a topic that may be difficult using only words. As for fiction, books in their current state are perfect, let the reader use their own imagination.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      It does seem that multimedia is working well with children’s books. I am not opposed to it, provided it actually motivates kids to read rather than becoming a substitute for it. Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1260484565 Donald James Parker

    Excellent post, Michael. Unfortunately reading a book is harder and takes longer than watching a movie. Many people opt for the video version. Mark Twain said "He that does not read a good book is no better than one who can't." Also unfortunately many are choosing to be functionally illiterate by bypassing the chance to grow intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally by delving into a good book and squeezing out all of the vitamins within it that build character. In our age it seems that being a character takes precedence over having character. Will good books overcome that tendency? They certainly can't hurt. We need to do all we can to preserve the good and the noble and the true aspects of our society. Good books are certainly a key component in that battle.
    Donald James Parker
    Author of Homeless Like Me

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/tsmorizot Scott Morizot

    I don't remember a time when I couldn't read and I have read constantly (often several books at once) my entire life. My family loved books growing up and I've passed on the world that can only be accessed through books to my children. The long story or treatise is something that goes all the way back in our history to the days before books when those who learned, carried, and told the stories of oral tradition were highly honored. We have recorded lengthy works and preserved them even when it was expensive and laborious to do so. When we relinquish or lose this aspect, trading it for amusement, we lose some part of our humanity.

    I also agree that multimedia has its place in "how-to" illustrations, reference books, and similar works. But in most books it's a distraction from the book itself.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Agreed. Thanks.

  • http://amysorrells.wordpress.com Amy K. Sorrells

    Completely agree (although I’m still in love with the glue and paper of printed books.) Oh, and I left my long response over at Joel’s place. :)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I read your comment there. It was excellent. Thanks for dropping by.

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/amysorrells Amy

        Thank you, Mr. Hyatt!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/LawrenceWilson Lawrence W. Wilson

    I couldn't agree more. Books still have great power to motivate, educate, and inspire–and it's the writing that does the work.

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    I agree 100% and posted a lengthy comment on Joel's post about how we attach ourselves sometimes to the word "book" in a way that we used to attach ourselves to words like 8-Track, Album, Tape, or CD. When people would go to the store they'd say they were going to buy a CD, etc but really they were buying music, just the same as they are buying music today but doing it via iTunes instead of CD. The delivery system has changed for music and it may be changing for books too, although I think books are vastly different than music and that the traditional ink-to-paper book will stay the primary choice by most readers for some time to come. Over time, as more delivery options develop, I think we'll just see consumers choosing a variety of ways to consume their "book" content based on the type of book and their own personal preferences.

    BTW… Ben Carson was amazing. I think he was one of the better speakers at the Leadercast. His story and passion was compelling.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Ben Carson was my favorite by far. I didn’t know what to expect and was blown away.

  • http://navigateyourmarketing.com/blog/ David Tonen

    I agree wholeheartedly. I spent 20 years of my career in the educational publishing industry. I have seen the impact, value, and life-advancement that books can bring (regardless of the delivery medium). What I fear however is that our culture has become so focused on entertainment (even in the learning process) that we are teaching the coming generations to not value reading as a form of learning. Students today shy from reading and default to being engaged while being entertained and it is the role of parents to right the ship!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Absolutely. I think we have to fight for this. Too much is at stake to just acquiesce to the direction things are headed.

  • http://www.shrinkingthecamel.com Bradley J. Moore

    There's something irresistable about the idea of a concise, insightful and engaging set of new ideas packaged in a book. Books are exciting, and can be literally life-changing. Many of the folks I hang out with are readers, and often share and promote books. But then there are those in my immediate family who simply do not read, and it baffles me. Even after giving them great books as gifts, they will not take the time to sit down and read them. Maybe it's an intellectual curiosity – it's either there or it's not. If it's not, then they're going to turn on the TV instead.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I am concerned that publishers, in their quest to attract non-readers, are missing their responsibility to serve existing readers. I don't think dumbing books down or decking them out with multimedia will help much. As I said in the post, I think may only lead to destroying our core market. I want to keep serious readers reading, so they can keep enthusiastically proclaim the value of reading.

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/stuartclark stuartclark

        Agreed, we have seen the 'dumbing down' in many other forms of media and that has not gone well at all. Keeping the core market happy as they will be the greatest cheerleaders for the value of reading.

  • http://sandraking-beholding-god.blogspot.com/ Sandra King

    How inspiring! What a great and smart mom–even though she couldn't read.

    I agree with Amy. I love the shapes, the stacks, the colors, the smells, the feel of the "real thing." I think I got my love of reading from my great grandmother who belonged to a Book of the Month Club. I still have some of her books. And read them.

    We need to slow down.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Amen to that. Speed is over-rated!

  • http://www.facebook.com/emuelle1 Eric S. Mueller

    I read Joel's argument. It was very good. I agree with him. No matter what medium is used, the definition of a book still stands.

    While multimedia "bells and whistles" might make some types of books more interesting, I think for the majority they'd serve only as a distraction and deterrent. I will always have an appetite for the type of book Joel describes: a conversation.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/joannamuses joanna

    I agree that books are so important. I am currently taking a degree in International Studies and Sociology. Very rarely (i can only think of one occasion) in the degree so far have we had to read a book from cover to cover for any of the courses. It's largely chapters and articles. I made the decision this year to read whole books on topics somehow related to what I'm studying even though the course doesn't require me to. I've found it so helpful. You get a lot better picture of the subject than you would reading a bunch of disjointed articles. I've only got through a few books but it has surprised me how much it has helped my thinking on the topics.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I agree. I think too often teachers and other leaders get so little because the expect so little. I think there is a subset of the population who are willing to do more difficult things—if only someone would challenge and inspire them.

  • http://www.faithimagined.com alisa hope

    When I read a book, I realize that I'm putting myself under the mentorship of that person. I have all the greatest counselors because I diligently seek out godly leaders. Leaders do not have time to sit with everyone individually, but they can sit with each of us in a book.

    BTW – Love Ben Carson. I read his book, Gifted Hands, and he taught me how not to let the world consume you. He puts up boundaries that protect him and his family from a world that would seek to gobble him up like honey and turn him into sour milk in their stomachs.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I really need to read his books. He is personally very engaging. I was very impressed with his humility and wisdom.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Geoffreywebb Geoff Webb

    I couldn't help but think that adding "multimedia bells and whistles" to books is like adding frills to your slides when presenting. Great speakers know that they are the presentation, not their PowerPoint. Most people try to "wow" the crowd with gimmicks instead of just being themselves and having a conversation with their listeners. That's what creates a connection with an audience. Sounds like that's what Ben Carson did at the LeaderCast!

    The ability to connect on a human level is what makes speakers–and writers–great.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I love the PowerPoint illustration. I am going to steal that one. (I will give you credit the first couple of times.) ;-)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    As a high school teacher, I deal with students that resist reading the content that I provide. However, and this is worth noting, many of my students devour the books that they get to choose. They all love good stories and are willing to put time into working through the books. This gives me hope for their futures.

    I agree that books are irreplaceable in human society. We need to be able to come beyond our own limited experiences to understand what we are about, and books provide the means for us to do just that. Entertainment does very little to bring positive change, but the mind-challenging thoughts of a well-written book can change the world.

    Let's not sell anyone short!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I think for many it is just finding that one book that unlocks the vault of your imagination. One of my daughters wasn't really a reader until she studied abroad and hung out around other readers. Then her self-perception began to change, and she came back a reader.

  • http://sunshines-view.blogspot.com/ tiffany

    I agree with your argument 100%. Nothing can replace books no matter what their form.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mary.demuth Mary E. DeMuth

    Refreshing to hear, Michael. Yesterday I received two cases of my recent book, just released. The smell, the feel, the texture–all are heady experiences. I also read a lot on my Kindle, but there's just something irreplaceable about a book.

    Thinking in terms of a long conversation, an extended story world, helps us reaffirm a book's strength. The key is be original, startlingly so, and yet impart deep truth in compelling, surprising ways. My fear is that so many people see publishing as accessible that we lose the great voices in the cacophony.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Books are not scarce, for sure. But attention is. That's why great writing and word-of-mouth is so important.

  • Gordon

    I am in agreement.

    There was a library one block away from my house and as a child I would go to the library for fun. I would read everything: aviation magazines to adult novels. During the summers I would burn a whole day reading a book thicker than my glasses and it kept me out of trouble.

    In high school I graduated with a 3.8 – perfect A's other than math (maybe I should have read more math books).

    The habit of reading got me into a priceless lesson: read your whole life you'll get a 'free ride' education without tuition.

  • http://nicodemusfile.blogspot.com/ Whitakerous

    I agree with you. I spent so much time as a kid running away from books and I wished I had taken the time to read more. Now I cannot go anywhere without a book or my Kindle. And I think that it is best to be a broad spectrum reader, just as much as we need history and biographies, we also need fiction and fluff. Maybe not to much fluff, but for me my appreacites when it has a chance to rest into the book and let the words create pictures in my mind about what I am reading. Books will never die, just the way we get them. Thanks for all you do.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I agree. The more widely you read, the better.

  • http://wojzone.blogspot.com Rachel Wojnarowski

    I absolutely agree! I've been a bookworm since I learned to read; I still have the lists of the books I read in 1st and 2nd grade. I believe that in order to instill the love of reading in future generations we need to continue to bridge the gap between ereaders and available literature, especially on elementary levels. How do I know? Former teacher; current mom to 6.

  • http://www.wisdomherald.com Dana Crosby

    Great point about the transformative power of an extended conversation. It is true, that to change, we need time to reshape our ideas and old patterns of behavior. The time it takes to "digest" a book allows, for that transformation to be guided, "mentored", if you will, by the author. In a society that seems perpetually "short on time," I had previously thought that the quicker we could get our new information the better, but now I realize, we need that new information to be sustained over a period of time in order to produce the growth and lasting positive change we are looking for.

    Also, while I like all the "bells and whistles" that we can add to media in our era, I agree that there can be a difference between entertainment, education, and true change. Information can be given through entertainment, i.e. Sesame Street. Entertainment that causes transformation is more difficult. Although, I can argue that watching a show with negative role models over time (as would one with positive role models) could have a transformative effect on the viewer. However, I see the point, that there is a danger of adding too much (or the wrong kind) of "extra" content to our books whereby our audience could become too distracted or amused and our message becomes diluted and less impacting. The threat is that the reader becomes an audience instead of a participant. The imagination that a book requires (in text or audio format,) necessitates personal involvement more than merely observational attention. This mental participation, precipitated by imagination, creates a more likely environment for true personal change.

    Very thought provoking blog, Mike!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I think that was the distinction I was trying to make. The difference between reading a book and consuming most other forms of media is that a book requires you active participation. I actually think Marshall McLuhan made the distinction between cool media (no participation required) and hot media (participation required).

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    I think the key point is "story." Even before there were printed books, earlier cultures had stories and storytellers. Whatever the delivery form, we need compelling stories to drive us forward, and to avoid the mistakes of the past. I happen to get most of my content by audio book, but it's truly the underlying story that comes through the spoken words. One book all of your readers should pick up is Ben Carson's "Take the Risk." This is one book that can truly change your life.

  • Roger

    I totally agree. Learning how to use the library and what resources are available there was life changing for me. I think it wasn't until about the 8th grade that we were introduced to the library in my school. When I found out it was open during the summer, I would walk the 2 miles every week to check out books. Throughout my adult life, whenever I needed to learn about something, the first place I went was the local public library.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I did this all through grade school. I started reading The Adventures of Tom Swift and fell in love with science fiction. I couldn't get enough of it.

  • http://www.karenrabbitt.com Karen Rabbitt

    "If we can’t engage people in extended conversations that require serious reflection, debate, or story-telling, then our civilization will simply revolve around entertainment." Amen.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Laurinda Laurinda

    Yes, I agree. I just finished Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. In one of the classes he mentioned that the wealthy read an average of 1 book per month. I was trying to think as too why there's a correlation between reading and becoming wealthy. I think there is something about receiving and processing information that gives you an enlightened perspective. People who are readers see opportunities where others will see obstacles. They see the interconnectedness of all things.

    Ben Carson's mom may not have been able to read, but she was a wise woman. I've been an avid reader for the past 20 years. It has drastically changed my life. Each book allows me to be mentored by the writer. Even when I watch TV, it's to learn something new (I love the History Chanel and Discovery Chanel).

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I have never heard Dave give that statistic, but that is certainly my experience with wealthy people.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Laurinda Laurinda

        I believe he was quoting from "The Millionaire Next Door" or "The Millionaire Mind"

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/MichaelSGray MichaelSGray

    I completely agree. My third graders who are expected to read regularly fare far better than those whose parents don't make the same requirement. I'd be interested in knowing how old Dr. Carson was when he began reading two books a week.

    I'm also interested in your take on young readers' books like the uber-popular "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series. I see it mostly as entertainment-based reading that teaches kids that books that are not rife with funny pictures are not worth reading. Many of my colleagues say "whatever gets kids to read is fine by me." Have you seen those?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I think that Dr. Carson was eight when this began.

      I am not familiar with those books. Sorry.

  • Ali

    This is a great post, and I agree with everything you say in it. I find that people who read good, challenging books tend to be more intellectually curious about the world and better able to make coherent, intelligent arguments. I am constantly baffled by people who do not want to take time to broaden their horizons by reading a good book. I work with several people who never seem to have opened a book beyond their schooling, and therefore they watch television for entertainment. I feel that such people can never have the experience of using their imagination in order to go to a different time and place because the images on the screen are right in front of them, doing everything for them. I also feel a little sorry for people who don't want to open a book because they seem to think they no longer should educate themselves in any manner. I believe this is part of our culture's desire for incessant entertainment, and I believe we should work against this movement toward improving our minds and souls.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Amen. I find that people who don't read are also impoverished in their relationships. It's almost as if the don't bring anything to the party, so they stop getting invited.

  • http://www.jonnywhitman.com Jonathan Whitman

    I grew up in Italy with American parents. They made us love books before we could even read them. During the summer, to help us not forget our English, they would pay us a penny a page to read. When we went on furlough in the States we did not have any difficulty integrating or excelling in American school.

    Years later I discovered that I am dyslexic. I always had difficulty reading, but always loved it, so didn't mind the challenge that I sometimes faced.

    With great difficulty I was able to graduate from Seminary.
    I am sure that none of this would have been possible if my parents had not encouraged us creatively to read!

  • http://forrest-long.blogspot.com Forrest Long

    AMEN! As a child I learned to love books and read alot. This has stayed with me throughout life. I turned off the television for Lent this year and now watch very little- do more reading instead. I don’t believe that electronic media will ever completely take over printed books. Yet as I say this, I know too many people, even some pastors, who either never read or read very little. Reading is such a great experience. Thanks for the post!

  • akila

    Hi Micheal,
    I agree completely. I had a similar experience where coming from India in the 70's everyone discouraged my mother from educating me as a girl. She believed that education was the only route to escape from poverty and thanks to her strength and persistence, I am working today in publishing and can get to places she never dreamt I could. I took up reading at a very early age and though my physical travel has been limited, I know more about the world just by reading.

    I could relate to your post in a personal way and thank you for reminding me of this gift.
    Akila

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      What a beautiful testimony to the power of reading. Thank you for sharing it.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/kaikunane ThatGuyKC

    I definitely agree with you Michael. As someone who was raised as a reader and whose mother forced me to write book reports on everything from the Hardy Boys to Lord of the Rings I think reading is integral to an individuals future success.

    My 8 year old son has become a great reader, but I'm concerned about the influence of the books he gets from school (not sure what I think about the Diary of Wimpy Kid series). Books tell stories that shape our values and perspectives on life and what is important.

    Can you recommend any books or series that would be good for my son? Don't know if he's ready for the Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings just yet.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I'm afraid I can't. As the father of all girls (five!), I have not kept current on books for boys.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

      Your son might like The Sugar Creek Gang series or The Hardy Boys series. If he's not at that reading level, perhaps you could read them to him to get interested in reading them.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patalexander PatAlexander

    Mike, While I embrace the current technology of blogs, I love magazines & newspapers, my childhood would have been so much more restricted without the school library and its great content of books. Thankfully one of my grandmothers was a reader and got me interested in reading. I agree with you that nothing replaces a good book. I read some books on my Kindle and other in print. I love that I can access a book in multiple formats and choose the one I want. I also agree content distribution is evolving, but I just can't believe that real books will ever go away. Thanks for your ever insightful post.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/jhedlund33 Julie

    100% agree!

  • http://www.storyofbible.com Larry Stone

    Two thoughts.

    1. In the context of this discussion, it's worth reading "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" from the Atlantic Magazine (seehttp://tinyurl.com/ykchfpj) in which Nicholas Carr quotes Bruce Friedman, "I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print.” Friedman says he can no longer read War and Peace, for instance.

    The frightening thought is, Are we — the majority of us — losing the ability to engage "long-form, text-based content, regardless of how it is delivered to its audience"? IF the answer is yes, the ramifications are frightening.

    2. One place where confusion comes in is that your definition of a book, Mike, has never represented everything that was put on paper and between covers. Most of us reading your blog treasure those books that do fit your definition. But I remember realizing that many of the family Bibles sold by Varsity (a door-to-door sales division of Nelson at one time) were sold as furniture — not as books according to your definition. They were sold to decorate the living room and keep family records in. And many gift "books" don't fit your definition. They are glorified greeting cards.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      These are all good points. I think it is important to think long and hard about what we are creating and the impact a=it is having—and will have—on the world. Given your history in publishing, Larry, you are in a great position to help guide us!

  • http://blog.lifestrike.com David Valencia

    The huge question is: What are you going to read?
    If you are not reading Chesterton, Lewis, Kreeft, Mason, Guardini, MacDonald, Tolkien, Percy, Pascal, Ellul, Shakespeare, Augustine, Luther, you will be wondering in the "shallow lands"
    No one should be allowed to die without reading the above authors….most of the books today are quick fixes with almost no meat to digest.
    Chesterton wrote: " An open mind is like an open mouth, useful only to close on something solid, if not it ends up like a city sewer, rejecting nothing"

  • http://www.overture-media.com Lori Mahon

    Michael – I love that you defended the “long-form, text-based content”! Thank you! I had someone make the comment to me the other day about Children’s Books that made my stomach stir. He said that why bother with children’s books because they’ll all be playing games on their iPad by next year and not reading.

    As I’m sad to think about such a thing, your point about the “delivery” method being different is true. Perhaps they just read the books on the iPad instead of holding it in their hand – imagine how vivid the pictures of a picture book could be on an iPad! :)

    Thanks for your great insight and wisdom!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I truly hope that doesn't happen with children. That's why I think we need to fight for books now, while the debate is still possible. It is far from settled.

  • http://landryglaubemann.blogspot.com Landry Glaubemann

    Great and Killing Post.
    I love to read this Blog.
    And I love Ben Carson, Have read all what he wrote except the last book , but I am at the point to read it next week .I have been challenged to read, Have increased my reading of Book since been in Contact with books lover like him.
    Have increase my Bibliotheque with Authors who challenges my Mind.Can you believe for a middle 20 years to invest more than $7 000 for Books in 6 years? Well I have done it.
    Have been challenged to read more and increase my reading of Book by people who can read more too.
    I have been Challenged and have learned from the Wife of Michael Hyatt, that someone can take a reading retreat.
    This I have decide to do since reading it.
    Why?
    Book bring you in contact with people who are smarter, older, wiser, better than you, and you learn from them.
    Great Post
    Thank

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/mitchebie Mitch Ebie

    I agree. If we consider how much work goes into a book it becomes easy to see how beneficial they are. They force us to think about new ideas and perspectives. They teach us new vocabulary and dialect. And, they open our eyes and imagination. They also train us to focus….I don't know about you but sometimes the best thing for me is to ignore the computer and tv just sit still with a book.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I agree. With so many distractions, that is increasingly difficult but also increasingly important.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Peter G

    I love books, but concision, properly executed, is a skill in itself. Mark Twain once famously remarked that he didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. Condensing is an art form. Some people write books because they don't have time to write essays.

  • http://www.shortthoughts.com Jeff Short

    You expressed a number of my own thoughts and concerns on this issue. I like your definition for book: "long-form, text-based content." I think we should fight to keep that definition. Some of the multimedia offerings I have seen touted may have their place, but they are not books. They are more akin to video games and interactive movies than books. This definition is one worth keeping and I hope it doesn't get lost.

    Digital books and paper books are somewhat different. I think some types of reading is more suitable to having a hard book and some is more suitable for an electronic reader. I don't understand why so many seem to think it has to be either/or.

  • http://www.RachelOlsen.com Rachel Olsen

    While I was growing up, our kitchen table was constantly littered with books detailing my dad's latest passion. They might be on aerodynamics, billiards, celestial navigation, or learning to speak Spanish – whatever his current hobby was.

    He would read enough of them to master the topic-hobby and then he'd launch a new business venture with the knowledge (become a pilot, teach for the US Power Squadron, open an upscale billiards parlor, etc.). He was always learning, always successful, and always doing something he loved.

    Watching him over the years taught me you can do, learn or be nearly anything if you read enough books about it by the leaders in that field. So yes, I agree, books aren't in need of a casket or urn.

  • Marcia

    Loved your article! I agree with you that we need the long written text. My husband and I have grown up as avid readers and raised our 3 children that way. I used to get stacks of books out of the library when they were preschool age and we would read every night before bed. Our oldest taught himself to read before he entered kindergarten. Just the other night someone in my household said, "We have books; we don't need to speak [to each other]." It was humorous because we find books to be what entertains us and wrap ourselves in their stories. Of course, we do speak, and to improve that ability and learn to tell stories, I have joined my local Toastmasters. Long live good books!

  • steve

    Michael,

    I often find myself in disagreement with your viewpoints, but this post is the shining exception. Your advocacy for the long-form narrative as integral to civilization is, IMO, both true and profound.

    Thank you for sharing.

    -Steve

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Steve.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/brandonwjones brandonwjones

    Michael, I really agree with you on this post. Books are so important to everyday learning. Reading books causes us to use our minds. Reading books teaches people how to be disciplined to stick things out from the start to the finish. Through reading good books, I have been able to learn many things that I wouldn't have been able to learn otherwise. Books are extremely important! Thanks for the great post.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/gmw74 guy m williams

    Right on, Michael!

    I realized a few years ago that reading books had such a different affect on me as a learner, thinker, teacher, and leader. Mags, blogs, etc are fine for what they are, but they are no substitute for books. Might I suggest a quick little book to further underscore the point? Books are to be preferred for our development not only for long-form argument or extended imaginative engagement. Not only that, because it takes time to research, reflect, articulate the argument or develop the characters and plot, and write them, books almost by the nature of their creation/production have a more mature perspective than the immediate news cycle. The book is How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society, by John Sommerville.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/paulhick paulhick

    I am very thankful for a mother and father who taught me early the power of books. My three sons each spend time when we get home sitting and reading. I love to read and am still learning the power of the written text to challenge and ignite the mind. I wrestle witht he digital age of print because I love the ramantisism of holding a book, cradling the spin and turning the page. Still, that isn't a book as Michael said. It is a prefered delivery method. I will continue to write on and speak on the value of reading in my house, church and community.

  • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

    In discussing this post, my friend Jeremy Lott pointed me to a passage from Joe Queenan's memoir Closing Time:

    “It is often said that children are the wealth of the poor. This was not my experience. But books are without question the wealth of the poor's children. Books are a guiding light out of the underworld, a secret passageway, an escape hatch. To the affluent, books are ornaments. To the poor, books are siege weapons.”

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I love that quote. In fact, I just posted it in my Resources | Quotes section!

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/gailbhyatt gailbhyatt

      Great point!

      I'm also reminded of how books–and the actual reading and absorbing of them–lifted Andy Andrews out of his homelessness. One reason I love "The Noticer" is it gives the reader much hope that present circumstances don't determine one's future.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

      A number of my students live in poverty, so I am hoping that I'll be able to encourage them to love books. One of the most successful projects that I do with my students is a novel response packet where they read novels of their choice and answer higher level thinking questions about the stories. My students seem to enjoy this assignment–so much so that I am considering increasing from one novel to two novels each semster. Even my "non-readers" like to be able to choose their own books.

  • Juan

    Hi Mike,
    I loved this post as it hits the nail on the head – it does not matter where you are coming from – what really matter is where you are headed – as long as you have the wanting, the desire to learn, to read books.
    I am from a little farm twon in Mexico, no electricity – but still read every single book or magazine came to my hands. To me a book is like the author or writer is talking to me, having a conversation with me, is connecting with me, is giving me his/her ways of seeing life, his/her frame of mind. It allows me to connect with the writer, it is like adding a nother stone to my the ladder of life.
    Thanks

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for sharing your story. Beautiful!

  • http://dougtoft.posterous.com/ Doug Toft

    Right on. This post is full of distinctions that help us think clearly about books. Perhaps the key one is extended conversation, whether exposition or storytelling. If our civilization loses the capacity for sustained attention–aptly promoted by reading books–then we will inevitably decline.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/bjmorrell bjmorrell

    Michael – A co-worker recently recommended that I read Gary Vaynerchuk's Crush It! After reading your post on the book, I had to read it. I found the Vook on my iPhone and thought what a great way for me to read it. I found the Vook valuable in a couple of ways:

    1. I was able to read it wherever I happened to be. For example, I went to a college graduation, and I sat uninterestedly through an hour of names that I did not recognize, I turned on the iPhone and read a few more chapters in the Vook.
    2. I gleaned a lot of interesting information from the videos within the Vook. There were pictures, stories and interviews (non-verbal communication) that were told in a 60-90 second clip that gave some interesting context to the written words.

    Overall, I agree. Not being a "book reader," I see the value and understand I am missing out on a lot of knowledge. On the other hand, I appreciate the "Vooks" out there that help bring those of us in, so we can make the step to becoming a more avid reader.

    Question: Where does someone like me start? What are modern must-reads? Not a laundry list, but one or two high priority reads?

  • http://www.godhungry.org Jim Martin

    MIchael, I very much agree. I do think there is a replacement for books. (Like you, I ready many books in digital form now. So, I am not referring the necessity of a hard copy.)

    Books were so formative in my life. For me, the impact of books began early in my life when a public library opened near our house in Dallas. I often went there on Saturday's and checked out biographies. Each week I read biography after biography. Not only did my world expand through encountering others' lives but also stimulated my thinking.

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  • http://www.aloe-vera.org David H.

    The reading of books, actually printed on paper, for general information and leisure is becoming a lost art. I'm all for e-technology, but there's just something about a good book.

    - David

  • http://www.scottvandam.com Scott Van Dam

    Great Post Michael! I have to agree that books are one of the few communication vehicles that simply allow me to learn, think, contemplate and unwind. As a Manager of a software business I am constantly disrupted by noise, whether it is emails, text messages, twitter feeds, blogs to read. One of the few ways that I can do my serious thinking is when I have a good book in my hands. Distractions turned off (Just me, my book and my own thoughts and reflections) Nothing could be better!

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  • http://www.actioninternational.org/stewart Brian Stewart

    Speaking of books, Thomas Nelson author Donald Miller did a blog post mentioning a Thomas Nelson book "Living the Life You Were Meant to Live."

    He included a link to that book's page on Amazon.com but the book is out of print and only used copies are available, starting at $39! No digital book available.

    I would have bought that book, on Miller's recommendation. Perhaps other readers of his blog would have done so as well. There must be *some* way to guarantee that Thomas Nelson titles are readily available and affordable, even out of print titles.

    In a doucmentary for Coca-Cola, I heard their Director of Sales for Africa say that their goal is to keep Coke "within an arm's reach of desire." I encourage Thomas Nelson to adopt that and make sure that when I want to buy a book they have published I can do it easily and affordably.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/christianne118 Christianne

    Your argument in this post reminds me of an article I read last year about the currency of books — that they engage the imagination and require focus in a way not much else in the world does these days. Great read, which you can access here.

    I, too, think the ability to focus and sustain attention to a long-form story or idea is essential to the life of a civilization. If we cannot do that anymore, we will become a short-sighted people, unable to hold the weight of world-sized matters … and then we will find ourselves intensely vulnerable. I haven't studied history as much as I ought to have, but I can't help but wonder if this is what happened to the fall of the Roman Empire.

    More than the socio-political perspective you've offered here, I take from this post the simple invitation to read again. I don't read as many books these days as I used to, and I used to devour them pell-mell. I can feel the lack of them in my life. I can feel the lack of them in my soul. Thanks, Michael, for the reminder this gave to me of how much I love to engage the long form.

  • http://www.watchingthegame.typepad.com/ jlj

    You are spot on. Books are critical. I worry for our kids and their lack of exposure to the written word, especially in sustained narrative forms. In this age of rapid-fire communication, texts, tweets, g-chats, and seemingly short attention spans, I've found that young people are nonetheless hungry for stories. They still want to be exposed to language that is skillfully crafted into compelling, humorous, poignant narratives. Deep down, human beings crave the written and spoken word – the idea that is thoughtfully developed, the problem that is carefully explained. I like to think that good old-fashioned storytelling, true eloquence, and persuasive writing will never become obsolete. Such qualities are essential to our well being, maybe even our survival.

    Nothing quite compares to the tactile feel of a well-bound book, but delivery method isn't really the issue here. I think we're talking about story, narrative, art, and the medium of words. We're talking about our fundamental need to articulate what's going on within us and around us. We're talking about intellectual, imaginative, and spiritual yearning. It's our obligation as leaders, writers, and parents to nurture these important needs and longings, not just in ourselves but in our children too.

  • http://www.watchingthegame.typepad.com/ jlj

    You are spot on. Books are critical. I worry for our kids and their lack of exposure to the written word, especially in sustained narrative forms. In this age of rapid-fire communication, texts, tweets, g-chats, and seemingly short attention spans, I've found that young people are nonetheless hungry for stories. They still want to be exposed to language that is skillfully crafted into compelling, humorous, poignant narratives. Deep down, human beings crave the written and spoken word – the idea that is thoughtfully developed, the problem that is carefully explained. I like to think that good old-fashioned storytelling, true eloquence, and persuasive writing will never become obsolete. Such qualities are essential to our well being, maybe even our survival.

  • http://whatbillthinks.com Bill Bean

    I'm a book lover (and ex-bookseller). Love the feel, smell, etc… However, just got a new Sony Reader for my birthday. I'm going to give the digital thing a try. Since I'm very tactile I don't think I'll give up physical books, regardless, but it could curtail some of my buying habits.

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  • Yetunde

    I agree with this thoughtful post. Dr. Carson's Mom understood the importance of being well read. It's heartbreaking to think of all the young kids that don't have a wise mentor to pull them off of social media and balance their steady stream of entertainment with the great books. Reading the great books expanded my horizons and exposed me to ideas I had never encountered before. We need to make sure people have access to the tools they need to increase their literacy. Increased literacy is good for the individual's welfare and is good for society. I think public education originated with Christians who wanted to educate the masses so they could read the Bible, the Book of books. Of course, it takes more time and energy to read a whole book instead of a previously digested summary or soundbite from a media outlet. But in the long run, it's the informed individuals who will see through the bias,propaganda, and indoctrination that others parrot and willl be able to think for themselves about the issues of the day.
    Blessings to you

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  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/vikpowell Victor Powell

    Yes, yes, and yes. The reasons why I write is because I wish to do for others as done for me through reading great stories by good writers that motivated me and taught me how to dream.

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  • Kathleenktrt

    What a wondeful article! It supports everythinig I have alwasy believed about reading and books in general. Growing up in an poor, abusive household, reading became the only thing that gave me hope. I could go somewhere else, be someone else. Ironically, my parents were big readers and while it hadn’t helped them career-wise, it was something they both felt was important. Maybe if they hadn’t both been poor, brought up in ignorance and addicts reading would have guided me toward a sussessful career.  But it saved me, nonetheless. My siblings who weren’t readers have led chatic, purposeless lives of addiction, relationship drama and poverty.

    I don’t make much money, and I scramble to pay bills. But I write, make art and read. My life has purpose-for me-and I know if I couldn’t read, couldn’t get my hands on a book, I would feel the same emptiness my siblings feel but haven’t identified.

  • Kathleenktrt

    OOPS. Here’s my comment with corrections. My response was interrupted by my cat jumping on the keyboard and off the comment went without corrections. Sigh.

    What a wonderful article! It supports everything I have always believed about reading and books in general. Growing up in an poor, abusive household, reading became the only thing that gave me hope. I could go somewhere else, be someone else. Ironically, my parents were big readers and while it hadn’t helped them career-wise, it was something they both felt was important. Maybe if they hadn’t both been poor, brought up in ignorance and addicts reading would have guided me toward a sussessful career. But it saved me, nonetheless. My siblings who weren’t readers have led chatic, purposeless lives of addiction, relationship drama and poverty.
    I don’t make much money, and I scramble to pay bills. But I write, make art and read. My life has purpose-for me-and I know if I couldn’t read, couldn’t get my hands on a book, I would feel the same emptiness my siblings feel but haven’t identified.