Reading widens the mind, and I’m not the first to point this out. And being widely read – so, not just reading one genre, but several, and possibly bouncing back and forth between fiction and nonfiction – is one of the best ways to widen your perspective without having to interact with anyone else, or potentially leave your house. And it’s free – libraries are still a thing, and if the books you’re interested in are in the public domain, you can probably find digital copies for your eReaders over on Project Gutenberg. And it’s not just books that widen the mind.
I read shocking amounts of fanfiction, and Archive Of Our Own is a good place to start.
But if you’re looking for something outside of your comfort zone, pick one of the following:
- a book that has been translated into your native language
- a book that is in a second language you have some familiarity with
- the holy text of a religion not your own, or a commentary on a holy text of a religion not your own
- a book written by an ethnic group you’re not a part of
- a book written by an author’s whose nationality you do not share, and whose nationality had no part in colonizing a country in which you live
- a book written by someone at the end of their life
- a biography of someone you’ve never heard of, or someone who is famous for doing something you have otherwise no interest in
- the history of a country you’ve never visited
- a nonfiction book about a disease you do not have
And if you’re thinking, ‘okay, Sare, that sounds great, but how do I know a good book from a bad one that also fits the category I bravely picked?’ Go ask a librarian. No, really. In these ways, they’re much more efficient than a google search, or an amazon search. You can also join a book group that wants to read challenging and perspective-widening books, but that involves far more interaction than just asking a librarian for a couple of recommendations, or to point you to the right section.
And now you’ve done it – you’ve read something you don’t normally read, gone a little outside of your comfort zone. Now it’s time to think about it. Here are a few questions to guide your contemplation, or if you did join a book group, that can help liven up conversation
For a work of fiction:
- how is the life the characters lead different from my own?
- what do the characters assume is true about life that I don’t assume is true?
- what do the characters assume is false about life that I’ve never questioned?
- what are the relationships between characters like in this book? How is that different from the relationships I have in my own life, and the relationships I’ve observed in others in my own life?
For a work of nonfiction:
- what surprised me in reading this?
- what did I learn from reading this?
- what part of my world do I look at a little differently because I’ve read this?
- and if the nonfiction work is biographical, look at the questions for fiction, too!
When we see that other people have different experiences and assumptions about life, that other people can count on things we can’t count on, and that they can’t count on what we can… that opens the door for us to see beyond ourselves and our own experience. It opens the door for great compassion, and for a much wider perspective.