In one of my discussion groups, the topic came up about the power of books to change society. The proposal was that people who read books have a tendency to be more open minded. I think it’s an interesting point. After all, reading is all about placing ourselves in another’s mindset. Readers live a different life, that’s part of the joy…the escape. We keep ourselves open to other’s feelings and experiences by doing that.
But, then I got to thinking. Why do I drop a book? Or, why do I hate a book when others give it 5 stars. Being a writer, I tend to rest on the style or voice. Sometimes I contribute it to a plot that is not developed enough for me. These are all my opinions, of course, but they seem to fit well enough. Yet, this same book received 5 stars from someone else. Part of me wonders if I am truly more open minded. Or, do I simply find and like books that match my own frame of reference and hate those that don’t?
I think the same can be said about radio programs, TV shows, and friends. If something is proclaiming a belief I am completely against, then there is a great chance I will not hang around for very long. This, I find, is especially true with politics. I know there are other opinions, and I know those people have their logical reasoning’s, but my world is happier outside of the argument. Can I say the same thing about books? Do I agree with the morals of the protagonist? Do I accept the premise because it is within my belief system…maybe matches my “way of life” more?
How many would read a book from a serial killer’s point of view? That might be okay for a chapter or two, but probably not for the entire book. What about a corporate sleaze who is after money and power? Then again, let’s not look at something so blatant. I live in middle class America. How many books I have I read where the protagonist is a poverty stricken person in a third world country? How many books are even written with similar conditions?
I think books open our minds only as far as we let them. With that being said, I do believe there are powerful novels out there that can change society. In the classics: The Wife of Bath where Geoffrey Chaucer questions societal norms. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry certainly opened my eyes to a world I could barely understand. I haven’t read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini but have heard it, too, is one of those novels capable of profoundly impacting the reader. There are countless dystopia–what I call big brother–books that cause conversation. Even The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins has room for a dialogue on modern society. There are countless more books that surpass mere entertainment. So, do books make us more open minded? Only if we seek out those outside our norm.