“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird
Recently, it was Banned Books Week. Books get banned for many reasons: religious concerns, too much sex, the wrong kind of sex, too much violence, or just the language the writer uses.
As a parent, I don’t let my children read every book that is out there for them. They are still young, so I can control what they read—for now. Some books may be age appropriate, but just not “my child appropriate.” If I deem a story too scary, or think they may not fully grasp the content, I will put it aside for another time. Obviously, this is not the same as “banning,” where I would make the decision for my child that a certain book is not appropriate, ever.
I believe that fictional stories will help children to better understand the world we live in. Our (global) society, has a broad variety of people, with many differences in backgrounds, lifestyles, and convictions. But without exposure, how are we to understand one another and find common ground?
Books can do so much more than just take the reader along to faraway place, a beautiful romance or heartbreaking tale. Books can increase knowledge, stimulate the imagination, and transport the reader into another person’s mind. Reading can force us to walk in the protagonist’s—or for that matter, the antagonist’s—shoes, albeit for a limited time. This can make us love the book, or resent it, but whatever the outcome, it will hopefully stimulate some understanding or empathy, and perhaps help us form more nuanced opinions. A book can unveil and challenge our prejudices, and make us reconsider them.
Obviously, books can have the opposite message as well, like one of hatred, or intolerance. History has shown us the power of propaganda. Nevertheless, I believe reading stimulates the ability of critical thinking—that is, if we dare to reach outside our own bubble.
As a writer, I must confess I write mostly to entertain. That by itself is hard enough, without having to aspire to more lofty goals. But the notion that books can change the world is a powerful one.
Writing can be difficult—even frustrating— demanding a lot of effort, and sometimes offering little in return. But, despite all this, keep on writing. Your story can do so much more than you realize. It can break down barriers.