As a writer and lover of books one thing I believe wholeheartedly is that reading makes a better person.
Especially when you make it a point to read something written by someone who is in a different demographic–age bracket, race, nationality, gender identity, sexual identity, or class–than you.
Why? We get so used to the way things have been that it takes a lot of concerted effort to even realize what is truly happening. Much less to change it.
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Expand Your World View
Reading something from someone’s point of view who sees the world differently than you do. Simply because they have a completely different experience of it because of who they are helps you have a more attuned, realistic, and empathetic view of the world around you. It’s so easy for each of us to assume that everyone else is like us. Thinks like us. Lives like us. Cares about what we care about. Experiences the same opportunities that we do. And that is just a total fallacy. The world is a big, beautiful, and beautifully diverse place. Reading is a wonderful way to start to inhabit other perspectives and realities. And what starts in the mind becomes real. And you can do it in the privacy and comfort of your own home. It’s really such a gift.
Reading something written by someone outside your demographic opens your mind and your heart to experience things that you would otherwise never have access to.
Some of the moments that have touched me and made me inhabit realities so different from my own in books I’ve read in the last year or so include:
When Saeed Jones wrote about getting picked up in a public library for his first homosexual encounter in his book “How We Fight For Our Lives.”
When Roxane Gay shared the details of what it takes for her to travel to speak as a person who weighs around 300 pounds. And how her thighs ache from the effort of holding herself up in her chair so that her body blood flow doesn’t get cut off because the chair is simply too small for her in her book “Hunger.”
Or when Ali Wong described how she performed comedy in her wedding dress after getting married at city hall in San Francisco. And having a buffet dinner at a Chinese restaurant for her reception because she wanted to keep it real with her family. And still have time to go out and do what she’s passionate about in her book “Dear Girls.”
Or hearing Chanel Miller relate the long, painful process of healing from her horrific experience of being sexually assaulted on the Stanford campus in her book, “Know My Name.”
And hearing about the hours-long walk to school Sherman Alexie would take so that he didn’t have to go school on the reservation where his family lived. And what it was like to be the only Native American in a rural white school in, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”.
Once your mind has been expanded, it can’t go back to its previous state
You’ve heard people talking about being woke. Well, reading is an important way that you wake up. And waking up isn’t about getting strident, or overwhelmed, or anything negative. Rather, it’s like what happened to the Grinch when he heard the Hoos singing in hooville even after he stole their Christmas. Your heart grows three sizes. And we need people with big, tolerant, open hearts. We need everyone we can get so that we can get busy creating a country and a world that’s inclusive and equitable for everyone. You can’t right a wrong you don’t realize exists. Nor one that you don’t understand. Reading works by authors who have a lived perspective to share that’s different from yours is an important piece of the process.
Also, when you buy a book. Or request one from the library. Or click on a link to an article written by a person who doesn’t fit the white heteronormative role, you are saying “I want more of this.” It sends ripples that help changes get made. For more diverse writers to be given contracts to write stories. And for more diverse editors to get jobs that allow them to publish more diverse viewpoints. It’s economics 101. Supply naturally follows demand. So do your part to create that demand.
And, as someone who writes books for a living, I can tell you that there is SO MUCH thought and energy that an author puts in to their book. Reading a book is truly a deep download of months if not years of work. I know I’m biased. And that there are other meaningful forms of delivering perspective and information. But books are a gift to humankind.
So, whatcha gonna read?
There are so many great books to choose from. If you want a detailed list of suggestions, here are “7 Books that Made Me a Better Person in 2019”. OR, come connect with me on GoodReads.com. (Search for Kate Hanley, find my author page. And then you can follow me.)
I would also LOVE to hear what books you’ve read that have helped you see the world from a new perspective so I can add them to my Want to Read list on Good reads. Leave a comment below. 🙂