I instinctively answer yes to this question and that got me thinking! Do I have any basis for this view?
I thought it was obvious. The biggy for me is
Empathy: if I think of how many people’s heads I’ve been in and how many eyes I’ve looked at the world through; that must mean I am more tolerant and empathic?
Knowledge: I must have learnt some things from reading as long as the authors did their research properly and haven’t just made it up. Even if they have, they must have got some of the experiential stuff right (what it feels like to gut a fish, riding a motor bike, first love etc).
Tolerance: Seeing things from a wide range of viewpoints must make you tolerant.
But what about reading books that underline your prejudices and give justification to the unjustifiable. I have read a few things that I fundamentally disagreed with but which because they are written down and well structured almost had me convinced. Print carries weight.
I was prompted by an article on the BBC which stated that people who read books are better learners. So I thought I’d have a quick look around at what evidence based findings were available. Studies I could find focussed on measuring the impact of reading on intelligence and educational outcomes. Tolerance and empathy are harder to measure. It’s not like we have a world of history where all the percieved baddies are illiterate. Far from it in fact. It would appear that very few world leaders have had little education, irrespective of whether they were good or bad!
The study What Reading Does for the Mind showed two main findings of the benefits of reading in children.
- Early acquisition of reading opened doors to further learning (positive feedback and building the ability to think)
- All children benefit from reading, whatever their level of achievement.
This article The Powers of Reading is quite interesting, if a little politically motivated!
So, there’s a library of stuff out there, which lean towards the positive benefits on the individual but I would say a there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it isn’t a guarantee that it will make you good. (Good is a hard concept to tie down too). I would like to think that I am far better for the books I’ve read and I think BIBs in particular must be even better for you, because you aren’t reinforcing your viewpoint with books you have chosen.
- Now We Have Proof Reading Literary Fiction Makes You a Better Person (theatlanticwire.com)
- Reading Literary Fiction Builds Human Awareness (myiesolutions.wordpress.com)
- Researchers: Literary Fiction Is Excellent Preparation for Real World (dianeravitch.net)
- Literary fiction and empathy (blackcountrylibrarian.wordpress.com)
- Does reading literary fiction make us empathic? (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- Does Reading Popular Fiction Make You A Dunce? (ticketliquidator.com)
It’s been a long time since I nearly missed my bus stop because of a book! But it happened today with I Am Pilgrim. And yesterday, on the way home, I got off a stop later because I had to know the outcome. It was very exciting.
I read on the bus, with my head down and being partially sighted I need to pay attention to what I’m reading. You would think that this causes me to nearly miss my stop a lot. However, I have learnt that I have a subconscious awareness of where I am on the journey. I expect I am monitoring the turns subconscously and, when I look up I know where we are before I’ve seen. It works very well. Except on a few notable occassions where I have been so engrossed in my book that only a fortuitous glance, moments before the stop, has prevented me from missing it entirely. I think if I did I’d just carry on reading and have a day out!
But this morning was one of those mornings. This is a special book indeed. It is very well paced, with the author dropping breadcrumbs, leaving you to gather them up at a satisfying pace. None of your Agatha Christie “I want everyone in the library where I shall reveal the murderer” here, where all the breadcrumbs are gathered in an overwhelming handful. If I had any criticism, and I think this is an anti-criticism (like “My only fault is I’m too hard working”) it would be that everything, although chaotic, is a bit too perfect. Our hero’s hunches pay off. But perhaps I’m being a bit harsh and just caught up in the story and not noticing the blind alleys he runs up.
The other great thing about this great book is that it’s long and well paced. So you can keep reading in great swathes without worrying about running out of story. Like your favourite biscuits coming in a big enough packet that you can’t eat them in one sitting.
So read it!
I’m going to break one of my rules now (I know! They didn’t last long did they?) and talk a little about the BIB I’m reading. So if you want to read I Am Pilgrim as a BIB (I would recommend it) read no further.
Cards on the table. Talking about racism is hard. We can’t understand it or our own attitudes better without talking about it, and saying things that make us uncomfortable.
I had a long conversation with a good friend at work about racism that he had experienced, and it was excruciating for me. I think he found it equally difficult. He’s Indian. We’ve had lots of conversations about family, children and looking after your parents as they need you, and I think we’ve both enjoyed those conversations and learnt a lot from each other. We didn’t shy away from differences in attitude acquired from our culturally different backgrouds, but these were obliquely approached. This particular conversation was overtly about racism, no getting away from it. I wanted to know so I could empathise and be more informed. I was practically silent because I didn’t want to make any racist statement, give offence, make assumptions or upset him. But in the end we came to the conclusion that in order to think about racism on a personal basis you can’t pussyfoot around. You just have to say these things that make you uncomfortable like “Has anyone called you a paki?”, otherwise you’re in danger of trying to deal with the unpleasantness of being a human by ignoring it and hoping it will just go away. We agreed that we’re all different and that the extent of differences had little to do with race, we could both find people from our home towns who were far different to us than we were to each other, and that differences between any two people were far fewer than the similarities.
So back to the book. Similar to What do I know about anything? Help me please! I would like to know what to think of this book. This book is partly about a Muslim radical, and I would really like to get a view of a Muslim on it. I’d like to know whether this book offers any insight into a Muslim world (it’s not all about muslim radicalism, parts are set in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Turkey), does it present a world that my colleagues at work and Muslims in my community would recognise. Is this book offensive? Is it patronising? Is it worrying? Does it make you mad?
But I’m uncomfortable about this. Is that patronising? Am I being racist? I’ve talked about books with my friend before, but what would I say if I handed this book to him?
I tried to think about it the other way around.
I’ve read thousands of books set in a world I recognise with characters who have a similar cultural background and they’ve been serial killers, murderers, lovers, heroes, brave, arseholes, fun and average people. If someone came up to me and said
“Read this book about a mass murderer, he’s from your religion, does this ring true?”
how would I feel? It probably depends how they were portrayed, with sympathy or as an embodiment of evil.
I’m also visually impaired. I initially thought I’d really like to read a book about a visually impaired character, but then, the one’s I’ve come across haven’t been serial killers or murderers (If you know of any visually impaired characters in books I’d love to know, don’t worry I’ve got Blind Pew from Treasure Island). So again it depends how they are depicted. I loved Rhubarb – Craig Silvey, which made me want to march up to a blind person and ask them whether this is what it’s like to be blind? I thought the depiction in Rhubarb was very convincing.
So the character in I Am Pilgrim, the Saracen (which is probably offensive in itself), how is he depicted? I haven’t read the whole book yet, but so far from my position of ignorance, his story seems to have been treated with some sympathy. There are credible incidents that lead to his acts in the book and I am at some level convinced that he is a real character, not some archetypal baddie with only one dimension.
So what should I do? I feel like I’m on thin ice with this? I feel like I need to say something and then end it with “don’t take it that way” or “I don’t mean it like it just sounded”. But I want to know, I want to get more out of this book than entertainment. I want to understand more. Discretion, on the other hand tells me to keep my mouth shut, sweep it under the carpet and try to remember it’s only a fiction book and not to read too much into it.
- Being Muslim. (misslocklear.wordpress.com)
I greatly enjoy the contextual life blog. I like the weekly roundup of links, which are serious, interesting, quirky, grammatical and topical.
In this weeks there was a link to the BookSmash Challenge. This is
Use imagination and technology to build software that goes beyond the traditional ways we read and discover books
Interesting stuff there, it’s really worth looking at the entries and voting. This is just the kind of thing we, as readers, need to be thinking about.
It struck a chord with me and the ethos of this blog. It did get me really thinking about How do I not pick a book?, I wondered if that would make a good idea for a book browsers (or not). “Book Look” has some features that are similar to my ethos, but doesn’t quite go far enough.
Perhaps a Blissfully Ignorant applicatioin could choose you random books against a profile (you’d need to be careful there) but I was thinking things like very broad categories in fiction, e.g. child/adult, new/old and possibly some more specific “absolutely nots” e.g. sci-fi, romance, historical fiction, violence (I quite like all of those btw). Probably the most important part would be the aspect that would cover “recommendations”, as I feel this is the key to success with this technique of Blissfully Ignorant reading (so you’d use some algorithm on ratings/number of ratings. For example, my new BIB has 4 1/2 stars from 211 reviews so that’s pretty convincingly good.
So a randomly selected good book would be chosen for you.
I should have entered!
So what do you think? It’d make a great mobile app too.
By the way, I’ve cracked! I’m still reading my non fiction book on body language but I had to get my fix of fiction. I just don’t seem to be able sustain my interest in non-fiction. I am interested but there’s always a bit that I want to skip and that make me feel uncomfortable. I will finish the body language book.
I’ve started reading I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes, this was a recommendation from a friend.
I haven’t read much, but it dives straight in. I’m pretty sure of the genre. There’s some unusual quirks to it. So it’s making a great first impression.