Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Books are Ambassadors

Two events this week prompted me to think about what I read. The first was my husband coming home with a brochure titled, “An Inclusive and Diverse Summer Reading List.”  Compiled by librarians, authors, and children’s literature scholars, the list suggests picture books, middle grade books,  and young adults novels that celebrate diversity.  It incudes, for example,  Hana Hashimoto’s picture book, Sixth Violin, about a young girl who decides to study piano after listening to her grandfather’s music during a visit to Japan; Rita Williams Garcia’s middle grade story, One Crazy Summer, about three black sisters in 1968 learning about cultural and ethnic identity; and Aisha Saeed’s young adult novel, Written in the Stars, about an American born Pakistani teenager whose parents take her to Pakistan to arrange her marriage.

The second event was a conversation in a writing group about reading, after one of the participants wrote about a character being influenced by a variety of authors and the books.

The two events together got me thinking about reading ruts.  We read a particular genre like mysteries or historical fiction or fantasy.  We read just nonfiction or only fiction.  We read books by certain authors whom we “know.”  On the one hand, nothing is wrong with reading good books of a particular genre or style, or by a particular author. On the other hand, given the vast reading material available to us, what do we miss by sticking to the known, the familiar?

I confess that I rarely read nonfiction. With three children, three jobs, and participating in numerous volunteer groups, my time to read is short and precious, so I gravitate toward fiction as a way of escaping from my crazy life.  While I believe there is great value in nonfiction reading, I find that nonfiction articles and books give me more to think about, when honestly I am just too tired for more thinking.

This week, though, prompted by the above musings, I read a nonfiction book recently recommended to me – Andy Crouch’s Culture Making. Yes, the book made me think, and yes, it was not the escapist fiction I usually crave, but I discovered, to my pleasure and surprise, that I really enjoyed the book and learned something as well. And I was reminded, again, that we live in a world of multiple cultures and our books and our reading should reflect that.  Books are ambassadors as well as teachers. 

And when you’re just too tired, they’re a great escape as well.

Paula Castner is a mother of three and a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative, as well as a freelance writer, writing and baking workshop facilitator, and drama director. She receives emails at pajamalivingwriting@gmail.com.

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