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Does Reading Open our Minds?

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.


  1. Tracy Krauss

    Your post made me reflect on my own experiences when reading certain books. I generally love a good dystopian novel, for instance, especially when it makes me ‘think’ about society. Much of it is based on our own preferences, too. Having an ‘open’ mind is a good thing but could also be dangerous if one lets their mind be influenced in a way that carries over into reality. I’m waxing philosophical here… 🙂

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