|Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2016 Discussion Challenge.|
It’s no secret that I’ve spent a lot of my life reading. I read for several hours before I go to bed each night. I read during the day while I work as an acquisitions editor for anthologies and literary journals. I’m in my final year of graduate school, so that means even more reading. All of this reading has led me to wonder if books have shaped my beliefs about the world.
There is some evidence that books have an impact on people’s behavior. A few years ago, there was an article in Scientific American about how reading Harry Potter can make children and young people more tolerant toward “out-groups.” Out-groups are social groups (such as immigrants or homosexuals) that a person does not consider themselves a part of.
Judging by the hateful stuff I’ve seen on the news recently, I seem to be much more tolerant of out-groups than a lot of Americans. But, I have no idea if I developed this tolerance because I obsessively reread Harry Potter as a teen, or if my tolerance came from another source, such as my awesome parents.
It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly where I got my ideas about the world, but it’s probably safe to assume that books had something to do with them. It’s difficult to spend hours with your brain inside your favorite book and not have the themes of that book seep into other parts of your life. Books have themes for a reason, right? They’re supposed to encourage the reader to think about the world.
It’s obvious that people believe that morals can be learned from stories. There are whole genres of books that are meant to teach and reinforce religious beliefs. The first fables were created thousands of years ago to teach children important life lessons. In modern times, book-banning in schools and libraries is common because parents believe that it is dangerous or inappropriate for children to read certain books. Even though Harry Potter can teach children tolerance, it is one of the most banned series on the planet. Many parents believe that it encourages children to practice witchcraft and disobey authority.
I wondered if stories had any role in shaping my morals. To find out, I started looking at the themes of my favorite childhood books. I was a big re-reader as a kid. It wasn’t unusual for me to read the same book 3 or 4 times in a row. I examined some of my favorites and noticed that a lot of my personal beliefs do line up with the themes of the books, but I have no idea if that’s because the books influenced my beliefs, or if it’s because the themes are fairly universal, or if it’s all a coincidence. Or, maybe I already had the ideas before I read the books. I don’t think there’s any way to know for sure.
There is one instance where a book may have influenced my worldview. Again, I can’t be totally sure. When I was a teenager, I read What Happened to Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci. The novel is about a teenage girl who meets someone called Lani. She’s not sure if Lani is a girl or a boy, gay or straight, a teenager or an adult. As the narrator gets to know Lani, she starts to suspect that Lani may not be human. Lani could be an angel. Unfortunately, the rest of the town can’t see past Lani’s outward appearance, and Lani faces some brutal discrimination. This was the first book I ever read that had LGBTQ themes. Before I read What Happened to Lani Garver, I had never thought about what it was like to be judged for your gender or sexuality.
Shortly after I read this book, one of my friends came out as gay. I grew up in a religious town, and I had never met an openly gay person before. The reaction that some of my classmates had to my friend’s sexuality was awful. I was bullied in school, but it was nothing compared to what my friend went through. I had never seen people treat another person so horribly.
I think the combination of reading the book and seeing what my friend went through helped me become more tolerant of out-groups. Just because someone is different from me doesn’t mean that I have the right to treat them badly. So, maybe books have had an impact on my worldview.
What about you? Is there a book that has helped shape your beliefs?