The Books That Make Us
Monday, June 6, 2016
My son was talking to me the other day about the narrow outlook so many people have. It tends to bother him that people are frequently unable to understand other viewpoints and that their world does not reach beyond the small circle they live in. He thinks many of his friends would be better off if they were forced out of their comfort zone and were exposed to a wider world view. We were in the midst of this conversation when he turned to me and told me that he was glad he was raised to be a reader and thought the world would be better off if people read more. After I forcibly hugged him and informed him he was my favorite child because of that statement I asked him why he felt that way.
My son said that we become like the people we are exposed to and if we read widely the pool of people and experiences we are familiar with is much greater. This makes us a more well-rounded, open-minded person. If we don't read, the people we are exposed to, the people that influence who we become, are simply those immediately surrounding us and those people are usually very similar to us. They are our immediate family or people with a similar background to ours. Therefore, we start to believe our way is the only way. Our focus stays narrow. He went on to say that he feels readers pick up traits and values from their favorite characters or books. He used the Redwall series, beloved books of his childhood, as an example. He says he read them because he loved the stories of adventure and loved the imaginary world that was created. However, looking back he feels he learned about courage, the importance of friendship and the value of a community from reading those books. He didn't consciously think about this while reading them but those values became ingrained in him because he was, in essence, associating with the characters so much. He quoted the old saying about how we become like the three people we spend the most time with and he said he thinks that also applies to the books we read. By our reading regularly, those people we are closest to are not just the physical people in our lives but also the characters we read about.
It was a fascinating conversation to have with my son and I have been thinking about it ever since. I have always said that reading broadens our horizons but this conversation drove home to me just how vital that can be. Of course it is possible to broaden your horizons by living life but what if you live in a small town? What if you belong to a family that never travels? What if everyone around you is just like you? Then it is through books that you get to know what else there is in the world. And if you don't read? Well, maybe then your world stays narrow.
I am not putting down small-town life. After all, I currently live in a small town. I am not putting down non-readers. Though yes, I think life would be better if everyone read. I am just very interested in how my son feels reading has benefited him and it makes me think about what books and characters I feel have made an impact on the person I have become. As a child I frequently pretended to be the characters I loved. Did this make me try to adopt some of their qualities?
My world has become wider, richer, more varied because I read.
I am glad my son feels the same.