Don’t Only Read What You Know

I tried to not write this post. I have tried for the last two days to write something different, something funny, something cute. Every time it has ended with me walking away from the computer, eating entirely too much chocolate, and drinking gallons of Diet Dr. Pepper. (I am an emotional eater and that’s just the way it is.) I have to write this particular post. For my health, if nothing else.

Once again, the “United” States of America is having the flashlight shone under the proverbial rug. The rug that generations of injustice, brutality, and inequity have been swept under. If you have been within eye shot of any social media forum this week, you have surely noticed that what Americans see under that rug differs greatly.

I have, repeatedly, heard this week how shocked people are about how divisive America has become. But as I write this, there is an open tab on the computer with a report my oldest daughter is writing in school about the Dred Scott case of 1846. It was a devastating case of injustice in our U.S. history. It has me thinking that America has always been divisive. The difference being now, thanks to social media, we are forced to hear each other’s differing thoughts.  Whether we listen or not, that is yet to be seen.

It seems fair to say that life in America is experienced very differently by different groups of people. Those groups can be made along racial lines, socio-economic lines, language lines, immigration status lines, religious lines, geographic lines. Each group has a unique American experience.

With tensions running as high as they are and the issues surrounding those tensions as uncomfortable as they are, it is very difficult to know where to start. Starting is uncomfortable, unknown, a little scary. But we must intentionally become uncomfortable and reach outside of ourselves.

The best way to do that is to actually get to know each other. One of the best ways to get to know each other is through our stories. As you know by now, I am going to start with books. The saying goes, “Write what you know.” Too often, we settle for following that advice in our reading as well. We read what we know, what is familiar, comfortable. But that is too easy. We need to read outside of our comfort zone. We have to read beyond ourselves. Read to learn, read to understand, read to listen to new perspectives, ideas, and ways of life.

For the last several years, it has been a goal of mine that for every book I read by an author of my background, I will read a book by an author of a different one. I cannot tell you how revolutionary this has been for me. Admittedly, I do not always make my goal, but that intentional striving towards reaching outside of myself has had a marked impact on me. There is something powerfully moving about hearing another person’s story and allowing their perspective to influence and re-frame your own.

It just so happens that recently I have read several excellent books that fit this category. I share them with you in case you are looking for a place to start or if you have read them already, as a way of starting a conversation about how good (fill in the blank) was. This is by no means an exhaustive list, this is merely a collection of outstanding books I have read in the last month. Please add your suggestions.

It should be said that Brown Girl Dreaming, Chains, Forge, and Ashes are the only ones that would be good reads for older elementary school age kids. Flying Lessons and Other Stories is a collection of short stories. A few of the stories would be excellent for that age, but several of them would be more appropriate for late junior high. Solo and Kindred would be good options for high school aged kids. The Hate U Give is one for adults.

If you are looking for books for younger children, you can find more recommendations here and here and here.

how to listen #7

Even the silence

has a story to tell you.

Just listen. Listen.

-Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming

 

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