Teach Students the True Value of a Book

Sometimes as teachers we do a poor job of selling the value of reading.

I know I’ve been guilty in the past.

I told students they had to read because there was a test later in the week.

I told them they had to read because we were going over that section the next day.

I told them they had to read because the book that was assigned was an important book that they needed to read in order to be a part of the cultural conversation at large.

Yet, until recently I never told students that a book could be worth billions.  Some of the wealthiest and most influential people of our time have been inspired by a book.  Here are three examples.

Warren Buffett

When asked what the best money advice he ever got was, it’s no surprise that Buffett turned to his holy bible, The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing, written in 1949 by value god Benjamin Graham.

“Chapters 8 and 20 have been the bedrock of my investing activities for more than 60 years,” he says. “I suggest that all investors read those chapters and reread them every time the market has been especially strong or weak.”

One book provided the foundation for the third-richest man in America.

Mark Zuckerberg

For Mark Zuckerberg, it was Virgil’s The Aeneid. A classics major at Harvard, he first encountered the text in high school.  It is the story of Aeneas’s quest and his desire to build a city that, he said, quoting the text in English, “knows no boundaries in time and greatness.” In many ways, you can see that in his vision for Facebook.

Napster co-founder Sean Parker, a close friend, notes that Zuckerberg was “really into Greek odysseys and all that stuff”, recalling how he once quoted lines from the Roman epic poem Aeneid, by Virgil, during a Facebook product conference.”

Two quotes from classic that he often recalls are,“fortune favors the bold” and “a nation/empire without bound.”

JK Rowling

Jane Austen’s Emma had an enduring impact on JK Rowling, serving as inspiration and creative challenge. She stated that, “I have never set up a surprise ending in a Harry Potter book without knowing I can never, and will never, do it anywhere near as well as Austen did in Emma. What always impressed her is the mystery at the heart of the novel involving two of the characters, Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, who have been secretly engaged for the whole story. Rowling said that no matter what she wrote, she would never be able to write a mystery as good as the one in Emma.

If we relay the message that books only have short-term benefits — a homework assignment, a quiz grade, a project to complete — they will never see the long-term payoff that comes with a lifetime of valuing the way in which books can be some of the most influential mentors in our lives.

2 thoughts on “Teach Students the True Value of a Book

  1. I had wanted to post this earlier but didn’t realize that I needed an account. I know that we also have moved on from this topic now, but I’d still like to put my two cents’ worth.

    I agree that we do not do a particularly good job of selling books to students. I like the hook that is presented here, but more telling is the language in the first larger paragraph: “had to”, “test”, “assigned”, “needed to” and “important”.

    We, as teachers, use these words. They are not words of inclusion; they are not words of welcome; they are not welcoming words. Students, when they are younger, read because they like to read. As they progress through the educational system, we beat that enjoyment out of them. We not only tell them WHAT to read and HOW to read it, we pooh-pooh their own choices being dismissive at best and telling them what they’re reading is “wrong” at worst.

    Think of Twilight what you may (and yes, I agree it’s horrible literature), Stephenie Meyer managed to get more kids to read 1500+ pages than any other work. And, as I am writing during “banned books week” up here in Canada, with no sex other than kissing. The same holds true of Harry Potter. And of a lot of other YA literature. Somehow, I never saw in my class kids saying excitedly to each other,”you’ve really got to read XXXXX”

    And if we must teach them the “good for you” books, or the ones required in the curriculum, or the ones found in the bookroom, then perhaps we should incorporate activities that allow them to express themselves and how they feel about it. We may not like what they say, but we should be able to take it. And maybe even respond to it!

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