If you're in bad shape for any reason, or beat up by work, or don't think you are where you should be even by a little bit, you may conclude as one writer did that "books are better than life." Books, food, nature, love, friendship and music do indeed add immeasurable value. It's a shame that many find palliation in addictive behavior and television (redundancy alert...), because all the above help you grow spiritually and may open doors to solutions for those hard to get around underlying problems.
I remember trying really hard to find alternative books and media as a youth (looking for answers to the question, "Is this all there is??") -- it seemed that either things were not available outside urban or educational centers, or we just didn't know anyone interesting who knew where those things were. Charlie Slay's bookstore on Grace Street was my eye-opening source: the Beat authors resided there (and only there), as well as New Directions paperbacks.
I wish I had gotten to know him; but wherever you are now, Charlie: thanks. My belief that there was a bigger life out there was not only confirmed, but led to a lifelong search and journey that has paid off along the way and is still doing so.
With good bookstores and libraries everywhere and, of course, the Internet, we peasants can feast at the king's literary banquet these days, and I like that just fine. I read The Economist at one library, and Rolling Stone at another (the selections are really bad, but just one right-on publication is treat enough). Today I posted, to share, two articles from the NY Times.com pages on Facebook, one on the sordid history of Goldman-Sachs' pump-and-dump short-selling frauds/economic bubble machine, the other a musing on the meaning of life as evidenced by two monkeys (really). Read the whole article by Matt Taibbi on Sachs at http://www.rollingstone.com/ -- if you have a strong stomach.
I'm not so sure about formal education (but hever have been). I took a semester of economics at VCU, which just consisted of the definition of basic, accepted, terms. I had thought at the time that everyone needs to be conversant with economics, as we are all helplessly tossed up on shore by those tides and then swept away if we aren't aware of the tide charts (overworked metaphor alert) ... but I've found that extensive informal education (reading, comparing, judging) has done the job so much better. Paul Krugman and Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone are excellent teachers, and oh so cost-effective compared to college classes.
Reading junk does you no more good than eating or buying junk. Most of the circulation of public libraries (and I speak from experience, my last little part-time job being at the second-busiest library in Pennsylvania) is mysteries and romances. I remember one day I whispered to one customer, "you're the only person today to check out a book worth reading." He smiled and nodded. Good thing that wasn't my career; you have to be more careful when your livelihood is at stake. The quality of the collection reflects the McDonald's-level culture of the clientele: 143 volumes of Danielle Steele, but only one of Kerouac or Durrell. Seven biographies of Dubya and his wife in the children's section, none of William Penn. There is a saving grace, though: with interlibrary loan or Amazon.com or Alibris.com, you can find anything you want -- a far cry from 1965. It's a feast out there, and most poor bastards are starving!