LOS ANGELES, CAThe World is Just a Book Away is an anthology that represents a 15-year journey by USC professor James Owens to capture the stories of how books and reading inspired some of the world’s most prominent people. Owens’s earliest memory is of reading The Encyclopedia of World Travel with his mother. The many books they shared opened his eyes to the wonders of the world. The legacy of literacy and love of books his mother left behind after her tragic death by suicide when he was just 9 years old provided the guiding hope in his life that ultimately led to The World is Just a Book Away.

Recognizing the life-changing nature of reading, Owens set out in 2002 to create this unique and deeply moving book. At first glance, the 60 people in this anthology may not seem to have much in common—yet they all share their personal love of books and reading in The World is Just a Book Away. This book provides readers with unique insight into the personal stories of 5 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, actors, royalty, world leaders, scientists, humanitarians, and many more, including:

His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Liam Neeson
Natasha Richardson
Vanessa Redgrave
Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Yo-Yo Ma
Jude Law
Miep Gies
Jane Goodall
President Mikhail Gorbachev
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Susan Sarandon
Martin Scorsese
Lisa Ling
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
Jane Fonda
Her Majesty Queen Noor Al Hussein of Jordan
Ted Turner
Buzz Aldrin

James J. Owens is a professor of management communication at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. James is Founder and CEO of the international children’s charity The World is Just a Book Away (WIJABA), which promotes literacy by developing libraries and educational programs. Since its inception in 2008, WIJABA has built 90 libraries, touching the lives of more than 70,000 children in 3 countries. James collected and edited the 60 essays in this book over the course of 15 years. His profit from this book will benefit the charity. James is also a writer, a corporate leadership coach, and a motivational speaker. He lives with his son Alexander in Santa Monica, CA. For more information please visit




As James Owens began the labyrinthine process of contacting and coordinating the 60 contributors, he recognized the profound need for children the world over to have access to books and educational programs. After visiting the world’s worst mudflow disaster in Indonesia in 2008 and realizing that none of the schools had a library, Owens founded The World is Just a Book Away (WIJABA) the charity, which will receive his profits from the book.

In just 9 years, WIJABA has reached 70,000+ children through 90 libraries worldwide with mobile libraries serving 100 additional schools. WIJABA has also created an environmental education program in partnership with Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, which is being introduced at more than 350 schools in Indonesia and Mexico. WIJABA currently builds libraries in Indonesia, Mexico and the U.S., to ensure that children have access to reading materials and programs that complement their education and inspire their dreams.

“WIJABA libraries play a vital role in children’s lives. Books impart knowledge, build understanding, and set imaginations free. They are among the great joys of life.” —Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace laureate

“This resource that I had taken for granted was not available to other children and that made me want to get involved and help change that reality.” –Cybella Maffitt, a teen funding 3 libraries by selling baked goods, lemonade, and handmade jewelry

“I feel honored and humbled that the 60 people in this book who have inspired the world in so many different ways have entrusted me with their stories. My most heartfelt aspiration is that The World is Just a Book Away will inspire you to explore books you might have never considered, embarking upon journeys into new worlds and magical realms of knowledge, imagination, endless possibilities, and hope.” —James Owens, Founder and Editor, The World is Just a Book Away

The World Is Just A Book Away
James J. Owens
November 1st, 2017
USC Libraries Press
ISBN: 978-0-9991348-0-1


In an interview, James Owens can discuss:

• Why this book is so special in its unique constellation of prominent people involved
• The impact access to books can have on children’s educations and opportunities
• Why James decided to found WIJABA the charity and partner with USC Libraries on this book
• What WIJABA does internationally and in Los Angeles
• The story of how books inspired and comforted him during this darkest and loneliest moments
• Why he would spend 15 years creating a book and giving the profit to WIJABA
• The story behind this book—about how reading and books inspired prominent people—that will ultimately buy books for children who have none
• The unique and inspirational stories of how reading and books have affected the lives of each contributor to The World is Just a Book Away
• The process of getting 60 prominent people to contribute to The World is Just a Book Away and the remarkable, unlikely results of that work
• The inspirational stories of people from all walks of life who have raised or donated money to buy books and build libraries for children who have none.

An Interview with James Owens:

What do you hope readers will take away from the experience of reading The World is Just a Book Away?
How do you hope it will make readers feel, what do you hope it will inspire them to do?
The World is Just a Book Away offers readers insight into the unique and unexpected ways that books inspire and even directly change the lives and work of all these remarkable people. I hope that The World is Just a Book Away will inspire people to read books and explore ideas and places they might have never considered.  I also hope this book creates a deeper appreciation of just how important reading is to our lives, creativity, work, and intellectual curiosity.

Each contributor to this book shared something special about reading and books. What are some of your favorite discoveries?
I feel incredibly blessed that each of the participants, whose lives have impacted the world in so many ways, entrusted me with their stories. It is very difficult for me to single out stories from this book as my favorite because each is unique and inspirational in its own way.

It was deeply moving for me to learn about how books about Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan contributed to Jane Goodall’s determination to go to Africa, learn more about animals, and become one of the world’s leading voices on the importance of conservation. Simon Wiesenthal found a book that led him to seek justice for the rest of his life. Miep Gies’s bravery saved Anne Frank’s diary, which has become one of the most widely read books in the world. Queen Noor’s submission is a wonderful reminder to consider what we all share. Senator Kennedy describes the seminal role that his brother’s book, Profiles in Courage, played in his life, which is a touching reminder that words live on and have great influences long after the deaths of the people who wrote them.

So many children today still do not have adequate access to books. How does building libraries through WIJABA change their lives? How will the publication of this book support the work of the WIJABA organization?
The publication of The World is Just a Book Away is the culmination of a 15-year-long journey for me. My profit from the book will be donated to WIJABA to help advance our work. I also hope that the book itself will increase awareness about the importance of children’s literacy and inspire people to consider supporting WIJABA’s efforts to provide underprivileged children around the world with access to books, libraries and educational programs. To learn more about opportunities that can forever change the lives of children please visit our website (

As a child, what did you find most inspiring and hopeful about books after the death of your mother? How did that set you on your journey toward this book?
I can’t imagine my life without books. My earliest memory is of reading a book about travel with my mother. Her love of books and reading sustained me after her death when I was 9 years old and continues to sustain me now. No matter how sad I was or how alone I felt, I could always escape into the magical world of books, which sparked my imagination and inspired many of my dreams and adventures.

Reading was also always a source of hope in my life. My own experience with books shaped my desire to share the stories of how books and reading inspired others.  This love of books also ultimately inspired me to launch the international children’s literacy charity, WIJABA, to promote literacy by providing books, libraries, and educational programs to children as a ray of hope in lives all too often shrouded in darkness.

How did you inspire and persuade so many prominent people in so many walks of life to join you in creating this book? After working on the book, do you see bigger connections between reading, imagination, and the ability to accomplish great things in the world?
The World is Just a Book Away feels like a miracle to me. I have always loved getting to know people through their stories, and I am extremely persistent. At the same time, creating this book has taught me that having a vision that speaks to people’s hearts will draw them to a cause. This project has also reinforced my fundamental belief that anything is possible, even the seemingly impossible.

For me, this book truly highlights the connection between reading and books to imagining possibilities and creating possibilities in one’s own life and the world.
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