What Can Reading Do?

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In a recent conversation with a friend – though I cannot recall how we got there – I started sharing my experience of how I saw the world while my father was still in the Marine Corps. For failure of better expressing it, I told him that in my experience of growing up in a military environment, I was not raised to see “color”. I know many people do not like this expression as, of course, I saw the differences in skin pigmentation. What I mean to express is that the Marine Corps was a melting pot of humans: all of us in the same situation; all of us living in the same circumstances with the same expectations of upkeep; all of us coming and going every three to four years; all of us living with the knowledge that maybe one day, our enlisted family may never come back. In short, it made us equal.

It wasn’t until I went out into the civilian world – attending public high schools in two different states since the DOD schools did not extend to those grades – that I saw the world for how is truly was: unequal. My sophomore year in high school was the first time I experienced racism and distrust based solely on skin pigmentation and religious beliefs. I was naïve - my bubble had burst - and I was quite confused and enraged at civilian society. I didn’t want to go back to a high school with a Confederate flag painted on a building beside it; a school where derogatory slangs were being tossed about without concern for the despicable weight of meaning attached to them; where social standing was based on what sport team/activity you were or were not a part of. In short, I was back-handed with reality and I was struggling to reconcile with it.

I am sure this “rose-colored glasses” outlook was due not only in part to being raised in the military, but to my own personal upbringing by my parents as well. If they had not the character that they do, they could easily have instilled such unfortunate mindsets. But they do not and did not, transcending the time and social environments they grew up in. I think some of this has to do with their curiosity, life experiences and desire to see and question the world outside what has been passed on to them. I also think that it is because that though they have faced some unfavorable challenges and events, they know we are all going through something and it is unjust to believe that we are all not simply trying to live and find connection. We are all just imperfect animals.

Why am I bringing this up? I think it is fresh in my mind because of my own, current life experiences, and because I was recently gutted by the power of literature. I just finished reading the much-lauded young adult novel, All My Rage, by Sabaa Tahir (which was recently awarded the Michael L. Printz award for excellence in literature written for young adults). Not only did it speak to my experience of unfortunate events, but it enlightened me on how little I know of the world and how brutal it can for many of us, if not all of us. There is a quote within the book that really struck me, as it re-enforced my own mantra, but it pointed out my own accepted illusory truth of a foreign word:

“This life is jihad – struggle,” Shafiq says. “Sometimes the struggle is more than any sane person can bear. I won’t judge your father for his jihad, Salahudin. How dare I, when I couldn’t begin to understand it?”

This is why I find reading to be so vital in our culture and why my parents encouraged a healthy, diverse reading appetite in their children. It puts us on an equal footing; it exposes us to circumstances, ideas, and viewpoints we may never be exposed to otherwise. Thus, helping us see things from a different vantage point; assisting us in understanding the reasons behind why others act or think as they do. It reveals histories that may have been sweep under the rug.

Can you become a person with an open mind, open heart and no regard for socially constructed divisions without being a reader? Of course you can, but reading certainly helps to broaden our worldview and chip away at ingrained prejudices. Am I being an idealist for thinking that reading is the key to creating a more egalitarian society? For sure! Though, while I am not naïve enough to believe that reading is the answer to all our problems, I certainly believe that it is a significant factor to reaching that ideal. If we are fail to expose ourselves to things outside our own little bubbles and reconcile ourselves to harsh life truths, it will only make life much more challenging and we will never inch ourselves toward an equal humanity. And is that not all that we want for ourselves, our family, friends and future generations? To ease the jihad – the struggle – of life for us all?

-Samantha Hanchett, Marketing + Outreach Coordinator

*Please note that the opinions of “Thoughts” are just that and do not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas County Public Library.


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