Minds Change With the Turn of a Page

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.

This photo, “Girl reading” is copyright (c) 2014 Pedro Ribeiro Simões and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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?


60 thoughts on “Minds Change With the Turn of a Page”

  1. Good post, as always, Chapter TK! Quite a few decades ago, at the age of 17, I discovered T.S. Eliot. I read all his poetry but imagine my shock when I read one of his plays and realized he was anti-semitic. I stopped reading him for the next few decades. Recently, I came across my old book of The Wasteland and joyously re-read the poem. I named one of my poetry books after one of his characters. I believe it has to do with not having to see him. For instance, Mel Gibson is a bigot and visible on TV and in movies so I cannot bear to watch him. But T.S. Eliot is dead and gone and I am able to think of the poem, not the poet, and enjoy his words. My imagination lets me see a talented, imaginative, most wonderful writer. No picture is worth a thousand words…

    1. Mel Gibson has at least said he’s sorry and done lots of outreach and charity for and with the Jewish community. To me it’s worse if an author or artist dies unrepentant. Still, it does not mean you cannot enjoy works which are themselves problematic or created by an artist with whom you disagree.
      Consequently, as a fan of HP Lovecraft, I’ve found that his fandom has, in recent decades, found ways to sublimate his subtle and not-so-subtle racism into sexism, which is (unfortunately) seen as more acceptable today, in fan works and adaptations.

      1. I feel that way about Orson Scott Card. I read Ender’s Game in middle school, before I knew what he thought of the Jewish community, women and other minorities. Now, I’m disgusted by him. I hate that I enjoy is work. The way I see it, I can still read him so long as I don’t put money in his pocket. I refused to spend a penny to see the movie of Ender’s Game and I will never ever throw a penny at his books either. I’m not sure I care if he ever does apologize. There are plenty of other books to occupy my time.

        1. The crazy thing is just how many writers out there have some over-the-top jew-hate. Sometimes it feels like if we were to exclude anti-semitic authors from the western canon, we wouldn’t be left with much prior to the 20th century, and very little left therein.

          1. Dare I ask, who else? I don’t usually think about that kind of thing and I usually don’t care unless they are trying to promote their ideas. Knowing that about an author sullies all their work. You look at what they write in a different light.

            1. “The next day, sensible they had misbehav’d in giving us that disturbance, they sent three of their old counselors to make their apology. The orator acknowledg’d the fault, but laid it upon the rum; and then endeavored to excuse the rum by saying, “The Great Spirit, who made all things, made every thing for some use, and whatever use he design’d any thing for, that use it should always be put to. Now, when
              he made rum, he said ‘Let this be for the Indians to get drunk with,’ and it must be so.” And, indeed, if it be the design of Providence to extirpate these savages in order to make room for cultivators of the earth, it seems not improbable that rum may be the appointed means.”

              Ben Franklin: Printer, Genius, Inventor, Humanitarian, Disliker of Drunken Indians. 😀

              1. Well, I can rest easy knowing anything I purchase that was written by Ben Franklin won’t go to him or to Native American hate groups.

            2. But in the case of the Jews, just about any of the 19th century British writers who were involved with Fabian Society to any extent (George Bernard Shaw and many in his circles) were also notorious jew-haters and in many ways were the authors of the Holocaust via their ideas on eugenics and racial purity.

              1. I have the same response as I had to Mr. Franklin. I can separate the opinion of a writer from their work. So long as the money I spend isn’t going to harm someone else, I’m okay reading it.

  2. I am the worst reader ever. at a rate of 3 pages a day i do not consider myself a reader.
    I do know what you mean with books being a strong medium.
    Though I think banned books are only banned because of what others thought of it.
    I will never be able to have a thought or opinion on them as i am not allowed to read them. I can only assume by what others have written about them if the title is even published to know they exist
    i think a simple warning should be enough to at least have us think about what we read as not always true.Not taking away we can have our own ideas about it.
    Like drugs I know the results and the are my opinions on them I can use to warn a future generation.
    The pen is mightier then the sword is true to the extend of those who wishes to believe what is written. And we are all as unique as a book.
    Seriously good post.
    As for what book changed me. i think all information I can get my hand on. And base my life on my own findings and beliefs.
    keep on smiling and keep these insightful posts coming

    1. I consider myself a reader based on my love of books. Unfortunately, I don’t get near as much time to read as I used to. As such, I am woefully behind on my reading goals for the year.

      I’m not really sure why books are banned, but any sort of warning label seems ridiculous to me. Read the back of the book. If you don’t like it’s message, don’t read it. I remember there used to be discussion about putting reading levels on books and/or time stamps. So, you’d pick up a book, know the reading level and know about how much time it would take you to read it. The problem people saw was that some people might be discouraged if they don’t read as fast as the book says they should be. I know there’s a huge publishing establishment that controls which books are published and which aren’t, but I still think books are a kind of unregulated media. Their interpretations and ideas are endless. I’d hate to see any kind of regulation on that.

      1. It is unfortunate there is regulation on it. or else we would not have banned books. A warning I mentioned is no more than a suggestion. After all we know a book can hold a great deal on someone’s psyche

        I may be a poor reader I can enjoy them. The timestamps would never work for me I always read slower LOL

        A reading level is what they put on it in a library for kids. and even that is ridicule as some kids are ahead of their time And can read a higher level.

        Age class is what they are doing on films as well. For now the books are safe. Until a mummy finds a book that is to wrong to HER standards. Good thing mums do not read what kids read 😀

        1. Thank God. And maybe, with each passing generation, moms will become more open minded. I don’t plan to censor what my children reads, only to be aware of the ideas in their head and to help them make sense of it all. So long as they aren’t reading Harlequin romances under the age of 18, I’m good. Even if I did come across a book that I refused to let my child read, I don’t think I would go so far as to take it away from everyone. That just seems unnecessary.

          1. Amen. well said.
            And the ideas of making them aware is nothing more than a warning or advice.

            It is teaching a child to come up with their own conclusions. And able to think for themselves.

  3. I think reading books throughout the years has made me realize how many different lifestyles there are, more than anything. I stopped reading some books I disagreed with when I was a devout Christian, but I would read those books now. I even read a book that attempted to disprove Christianity recently…it was hardly convincing though. The books that have changed me the most are easily the Bible and books by A.W. Tozer, and it wasn’t for the better – reading them a lot is what caused me to become fundamentalist in my views. I can read the Bible in a new light these days though. 🙂 Thanks for a thought provoking post! I always enjoy reading what you have to say.

    1. What you experienced is probably why people fear books and feel the need to ban them. It’s one of the reasons why I plan to be aware of what my kids are reading. I love talking about books anyway, but I will want to talk to them about what they take away from the books. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a parent guiding their children to a certain way of thinking about books. No one wants their child to change for the worse because of something they read. To some, that might sound silly, but you and I both know how books can change people.

    2. One of the most interesting metafictional examples of this occurred in Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. One monk is so certain that a book (fictionalized version of an actual lost book by Aristotle on the virtues of laughter and comedy) will jeopardize (his idea of) Christianity, that he goes to monstrous lengths to suppress it. It’s an absolutely beautiful and fascinating book, which I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in christian theology and the history thereof.

      1. That’s not too far off from things that do happen in real life. Challenging our beliefs isn’t the same as changing them. Those I know who aren’t afraid to question and challenge what they believe in have a much deeper understanding of whatever faith they follow.

  4. Kerouac,Ginsberg,Kesey,Wolfe,Salinger,and so many others did the same for me. I have to thank my roommate at the time for opening a door. Cool thing was I realized I had a choice in what went in my brain.

    1. Every book we read brings some kind of change. I don’t think we always notice it book to book. It’s only when we look back that we realize these authors have massively influenced how we think.

  5. Very true, the written word is the most powerful form of reaching out to somebody. I confess books govern my life. I read this book for example, The Fountainhead and it totally changed my outlook towards things. If not for that novel I wouldn’t be what I am, I wouldn’t be writing a blog or would be reading this one. I wouldn’t even have developed the sense of insight I have. Novels open your view towards life in general.

    1. There are some books that are just as big as that. The Wheel of Time series (which I have yet to finish), while a fantasy series, has had huge influence on me. It has changed the way I think about religion, miracles, morality. One of the main characters has been put in a place of power where he governs others who follow him blindly. That position wasn’t his choice, but it’s where he is. The way he then thinks about politics, war and love is ever changing. I can’t say I see the world in the same way as that character, but it did show me that the way a small farmer views the world is greatly different than how a politician views the world, which is again different from a soldier. I know now that there are some ideas which I just can’t understand without having had certain life experiences. For example, I don’t always understand cultural appropriation, because I’m not usually a part of the culture being offended. I have learned to accept that something is offensive without completely understanding why. I can’t know because I’m not a part of that culture. I can only learn.

      1. It is also true though, that all experiences aren’t worth having, like your example. Reading books satisfy these curiosities to some extent and that is why I read them. For example, I have not yet experienced how is it like losing a loved one, I hope not to, but it is inevitable in the end. Obviously, understanding such pain isn’t desirable. Same goes for cultural appropriation, it isn’t something you can forget in your life as I have experienced it to some extent.That is where books come in. They may not provide with the proper understanding of such things, but they give an idea about them which many times is enough. They put you in the character’s mind and make you witness his emotions.

  6. Borges, in a continent where writers speak of America (well, South America for you) from the point of view of Spanish people in foreign land, Borges was the first that feel it as ours. Dualities, infinities, humanism, a world with different religions or religions modified by our millennial beliefs, the loneliness to be foreign in your own land and country, the love that we’ve to hide, the first voice to be truly American (or south American if you prefer)

  7. I devoured books as a child. At one point I had read all of the books in the house and the library was closed so I read the phone book. While that is quite, quite sad, I was not lame enough to read it literally from A-Z. Instead I searched the names in the book for people who shared names with authors, book characters, film stars or foods. My sister still mocks me for it. I went on to study Literature for my undergraduate degree and became a High School English teacher so I made my passion for texts into a career.

    Now I have four kids and am so often sleep-deprived, I don’t get through as many books in a month as I once did but I am still an avid reader and am glad that each of my children has a similar love for books. One of the very first things the children and I did when we arrived in America (and I mean within the first few days) was get library tickets.

    Books are like passports. They can transport you to other times and places, you can escape into them, lost yourself in them. Books definitely teach you to contemplate other situations and ways of being, work through predicaments and consider dilemmas and thus contribute to the growth of empathy. Books can make you open your eyes, provoke a different way of thinking, lead to a shifting in perspective, make you want to approach things differently. Books are a food that nourishes the intellect and the soul.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with reading a phone book. I once grabbed the dictionary just to read it page by page. There were even other books in the house I could have read, but I wanted to learn new words. For the record, I did not read the whole thing.

      I don’t have kids as an excuse for the few books I’ve read this year. Life is just crazy busy. I can’t read while I’m at work, or doing laundry or dishes. There’s just not a lot of time to sit with a book anymore. I love how active my lifestyle is, but I miss the books sometimes.

      1. I often read the dictionary. I don’t consider that odd in any way. I miss books too and it annoys me how long it takes me to get through a book these days. I’m going to read loads in my retirement.

  8. I find my world view has been influenced by every book I ever read by questioning my preconceived beliefs. Similar to your experience my parents never wanted me watching Simpsons but were almost proud that I would read Lord of the Flies, Of Human Bondage, and other books that contained far more violence, sexuality, and questionable morality than anything found on television.

    1. Crazy, isn’t is? It’s not even that the books I choose to read were that bad. It’s not like sex was described in too much detail. I was, however, reading far above my reading level. I was encountering ideas no one else my age was and my parents had no clue. They didn’t even care about the mangas I read. I remember the first time I read through Angel Sanctuary, which I started in middle school. There’s a lot going on in that series, including a romantic relationship between siblings. I felt like I was getting away with something as I read them. I wasn’t even allowed to use the word ‘sucks’ and here I was reading this.

      1. Yeah the word stupid was considered on par with actual cursing in my home growing up. Still I can’t help but wonder if the doubts and criticisms I have now concerning matters of faith and religion have to do with that cognitive dissonance I experience as a child and if I would be a little bit more content without it.

  9. Good post TK.

    Raising my kids was not as easy as I thought it was. Apparently, they had their own resources (like reading books, watching movies, and peers, etc.) for gathering the more intimate things in life. Parents know very little and my offerings were often met with a roll of the eyes and a clicking of the tongue. After all isn’t it better to get the real truth from some kid on the school yard. It wasn’t until later in life that my kids realized that I might know a few things…and thus the dilemma that a lot of well meaning parents face; the willingness to pass on the values we hold dear, verses, the unreceptive vessel full of piss and vinegar. O the difficulties and hurts they could have avoided if only we had a frank discussion on the knowledge they gleaned from book and peer. O the guidance that could have been imparted had only the young whippersnapper had the wherewithal to get it. But alas they don’t and neither did I, but somehow things turned out…and for better or worse, not too bad, I think!

    In my case, the apple never fell far from the tree. And so it is that I’m like my parents, and my kids are like me. Thinkers we are…and we hold to what we believe, stubborn and pigheaded, and like a frog mellowing in boiling water we seek no escape. Thank God I met my wife…she has taught me well and I’m the better for it. My kids…thanks goodness have turned out like her and have her wit and wisdom and for that I’m truly thankful.

    Great post TK….love your stuff. ~ Dave

    Ps…my book of choice is the Bible…although I’ve read many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. I consider myself a Christian, but I’m not a religious person. The Good Book has changed my life considerably and for the better especially when I think about all the nonsense I believed beforehand. I love Charles Dickens and usually read one of his books a year. JRR Tolken is a favorite, and C.S. Lewis of course. I could go on but I’ll leave it there.

    1. That’s the struggle with parents. I feel they reach a point where they balance being an authority figure and being a friend. How do you cultivate a relationship with your children so they aren’t afraid to come to you with life’s important questions and also be the authority of right and wrong for them? Maybe there is no real balance. There are some things that can’t be taught and have to be experienced.

  10. I enjoyed this post and I agree with you – books are powerful and can change a person. I think it’s interesting that you say certain characters’ experiences resonated with you, and that facilitated your embrace of viewpoints/opinions contrary to those of your parents. I think that’s good proof that books play a big role in molding a person, but they are not solely responsible. Your life experiences lead you to react the way you did to those books, but without those books you may have never been exposed to those opinions at all. It’s sort of a two-part formula, if I understand your point correctly. Nicely done.

    1. I was already starting to work on my own morality as something separate from what people told me was moral when I got into books. Reading definitely helped speed up the process of finding my own path in this world.

  11. I completely side by you! Books can make you or break you. You pick the right one and you’re hooked. You start out with the wrong one and It is all downhill. My personal favorite is Little Women. For some reason, I feel terribly attached to it. That’s also the book I almost threatened to not finish because (Spoiler Alert for those who haven’t but want to read it!) Jo refused Laurie’s proposal! I was heartbroken. Even Sirius’s death came second to that!

    1. Yeah, I actually hated reading until the 4th grade, when I discovered a series called The Royal Diaries. Historical fiction got me hooked! It was all downhill from there as I consumed as many books as I could get my hands on. I get so into them, I have laughed, cried and yelled at them. I may have even thrown a book or two in an emotional rage at it’s contents. Things happen ^_^

  12. Hey this is similar to my parents! I used to hide any pop culture from them so as not to invite judgement. I do remember my mum coming across Maurice by EM Forster. Now she never took any interest in what I was reading but just happened to come across that particular one. She was too embarrassed though to talk about the subject matter and so was I.

    1. Isn’t that just the way of the world? I’m happy my parents never took interests in what I read. Some of the ‘worst’ stuff I read came in the form of manga and video games. Those hobbies, which tended to have more adult themes than the books I read, were even farther off their radar.

    1. I don’t talk to my parents about most of my liberal views because I’m afraid they’d hate me. My family does this thing where, even if something is completely obvious, we don’t talk about it. If we don’t speak of it, then it’s not really real. So, so long as I don’t speak of liberal ideas or liberal politics, my parents can pretend I’m not. Since that seems to make them happy, I work to keep it like that.

      My father is very opinionated and vocal. The man will trip over a chair and complain for the next five minutes about “that damn liberal chair.” He’s always bringing up politics and I always work hard to keep my mouth shut.

  13. I wonder, if you had read different books as a child would you have had a different worldview now as an adult? Are we nothing more than an amalgamation of the information that is processed in our minds….. or is it possible that there is more to it?

    1. I think it’s a mix. I may not have connected to those characters like I did without the experiences I had had thus far. Another reader may interpret an idea differently than I did and go off on a completely different path. Just look how many religions the Bible has spawned. I think there is definitely something to say about personality as well. Consider my friend who through the Harry Potter books in the trash. Her personality was not open to anything that might contradict her views even in a fictional sense. She, therefore, had a different experience than others who read the books.

  14. Wonderful post! My parents never had to worry about what I watched because I grew up out in the country where we only had one channel! They never paid much attention to what I read, and I always had my nose in a book learning way too much. lol!

    1. Learning way to much is right. Anything a parents shields their child from on TV can be found in a book. I don’t know why people aren’t as concerned about books as they are about other media.

  15. Have had the same experience. Books gave me a chance to relate to people the likes of whom I could never have met in my sheltered, conservative life. Every book I have read, from the trashiest romance to the greatest classic has changed me a little. And frequently I have read books whose values conflicted strongly with mine. I think I developed critical thinking and the need to accept and live with diversity, mainly through reading. \

    1. I agree. It was always facinating for me to read about people whose values conflicted with my own. It showed me that, even though I disagreed with them sometimes, they were still a good person. A person could believe differently than I did and be good. Now, that seems like such an obvious statement, but I went through a period where I didn’t think that.

  16. I think the books that made the biggest impact on me were the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (JRR Tolkien) and Trout Fishing in America (Richard Brautigan). There were books that carried more of an emotional punch, but these two stand out as the ones that most changed the way I view the world around me.

  17. “There is no such thing as an immoral book. Books are well-written or badly-written. That is all.” — Oscar Wilde

    ^My creedo.

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