Books open our minds to worlds dramatically different from our own. While some may catapult us into complete fantasy, others may simply show us what life is like on the other side of the world. There is a certain magic as each page is turned. A great book is never finished as the thoughts is conjured in the reader’s mind rattle around long after it has been finished.
My parents did a lot of worrying over music, T.V. shows and movies back in the day. They were constantly censoring the media they let me use, making sure everything I was exposed to was appropriate for my age group. I remember my parents disproving of the Alanis Morissette song “I’m a Bitch, I’m a Lover” and warning me not to vote for the Spice Girls on the Nickelodeon Choice Awards form I got at Burger King. The one form of media they never disapproved of were books.
I remember hearing my father sing my praises to my mother. Often, I would hand him money and ask that he buy a book for me on the way home from work. On this particular day, he was surprised to find he had to venture through the adult fantasy section to grab what I wanted. The book was more than 500 pages long. He told my mom how he boasted about me at work, showing off my reading level and the book his daughter had asked for.
Through that series and many other, my eyes were opened to worlds dramatically different from my small town, Catholic school life. Without someone whispering in my ear about right and wrong, I read about characters who engaged in romantic relationships outside of marriage. I witnessed people warring with their demons, trying to decipher what their moral code was. As a child without a concrete moral code of my own, I often asked myself the same questions as those characters. In that way, I developed a skill knack for stepping into the shoes of others. As the years went on, it became easier and easier for me to empathize with people whose lives were dramatically different from my own.
With each turn of the page, my interests in culture and human rights grew. Maybe it was because I had my own struggles with depression and bullying, but I connected with the protagonists of my books. I saw similarities between their struggles and my own. The darkness that so often clouded their hearts and the difficult decisions they made in the hopes of doing something right resonated with me.
They may not have been real, but it was comforting to read about how others handled their inner demons.
The list of ideas I was exposed to through books is near endless.
- I experienced characters who were discriminated against just for being who they are.
- I witnessed corrupt governments being overthrown by the actions of commoners.
- I observed charters as the acted against the moral code of their society in order to do what was truly right.
Little did my dear conservative parents know, but those books I read were filling my head with many liberal ideas.
The way I view the world would be completely different if I hadn’t read throughout my childhood. My interest in knowledge, culture and the betterment of the world would exist in variant state, if they existed at all.
I’m delighted that my parents didn’t monitor the books I chose to read. Who knows what worlds I would have been closed out of. They didn’t know the power of books, but I do. Sometimes, I find myself wondering if I would let my own children have that kind of freedom with books.
The answer is a definite yes, but I still think I would keep an eye on the types of books any child of mine chose to read. If my 10-year-old is reading a book in which characters engage in activities they don’t understand (yes, like sex), I want to be there to answer their questions.
That scenario depends on me having kids, though, which isn’t a guarantee. No matter what I do, I doubt I could overcome the power of the written word anyway.
Maybe you think my high regard for books is flawed, but I know their power all too well. I have many friends who have been changed due to the books they’ve read. I even had a (particularly religious) friend throw out all the Harry Potter books because they had ‘satanic symbols’ and were turning her ‘dark.’
There is a whole list of banned books out there for a reason. Book are powerful. The right words can change people and change lives. Some may even carry ideas people are afraid to unleash in the world.
How have books changed the way you viewed the world? Have you ever stopped reading a book because you disagreed with the content? What book(s) changed you the most?