Five Books I Read Years Ago That Still Have a Message for Today

Book read long ago still have a message for today.

Books read long ago still have a message for today.

Remember the bestselling book from the 1990’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten”? It was filled with truisms like “Don’t hit anybody” and “Be nice.” Good stuff, but in talking with an old friend recently I realized we didn’t learn it all in kindergarten. We also learned some important life lessons in Mr. Wohlberg’s 8th-grade class at the Eugene Field School in Rogers Park.

Our class featured a daily hour for “Reading Club.” This was the first year in which we were assigned short novels and works of non-fiction for reading and analysis. The book list was carefully curated, and in looking back I recognize that each had a lesson, one that we can also apply in our current time.

The Eighth Grade Book List 1971-1972

  • Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther. This green covered paperback was a series of sketches about a family in England just before the onset of World War II. I remember it as a warm look at the nation, just before immense tragedy and great changes were about to take place. Knowing that England survived can bring hope and optimism to us who are now at the precipice of another world-altering event.
  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton. Another warm-hearted tale set in England, following the long career of a sweet, under-assuming teacher in a boy’s boarding school. Sort of a pre-Dead Poet’s Society. The take-away to remember?  Kind and gentle can have more effect than bluster and braggadocio.
  • The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck. A family saga of early 20th century China. Not every character is a champion, but by studying this novel of other people and other cultures, we can learn not to demonize the unfamiliar in our world.
  • Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy. Yes, JFK wrote (or had ghost-written) this book while he was a Senator from Massachusetts. Life episodes from 8 U.S. Senators who took actions considered by Kennedy to be heroic. Current re-imaging of history may have cast some of his assessments of heroism in doubt, but the concept that our elected representatives should be courageous–hey, what a wonderful, novel, idea!
  • Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif. Probably the least known of these books, it tells the tale of 11 men (sorry, no women in the bunch–or in the group of Senators in Kennedy’s book) who were instrumental in advancing science, in introducing and promoting the concept that many diseases were caused by minute organisms, and in discovering ways to fight those bugs. Imagine that, science advancing mankind! Think that could have any relevance in our era of anti-vaxers and COVID deniers?

Great lessons, though hopefully, my education didn’t end in 8th grade. Now more than ever, we need to be life-long learners. It’s the only way to survive.


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