Sunday, July 31, 2016

Books are more than mirrors or windows

Diverse books, we often hear, are mirrors in which readers may see themselves reflected; or windows through which readers may glimpse differences.
I understand and respect these metaphors. But to me, books are neither mirrors nor windows.  They are the keys to much, much more. To something broader and deeper than just recognizing oneself or peeking at someone else.
They are much more, as I have repeatedly said in my talks for some years now, and most recently mentioned at ALA and then at Oakland University.
They are a magical means of transport, transcendence and transformation.
When you read a wonderful book, you never see yourself. You may see someone similar, perhaps, someone who resembles you a little, outwardly or inwardly, but that's just superficial.
Your soul shouldn't be standing still when you read - your soul should move.
When you read a marvelous book, you don't just peer through a window.  Words touch you, grip you, and don't let go of you.
Your senses - all your senses are captive. Your body is consumed. You are on a glorious voyage, a voyage of the imagination, a voyage of thought, a voyage of love.
You enter the hearts and minds of characters. You live another life for a while. You see through their eyes. You feel how they they feel. You breathe with them and they breathe through you.
You don't just inhabit the protagonist's world, you inhabit the protagonist's soul.
And when you return from the book to your own world, your reality will have changed. You shall be changed.
You will be more compassionate, more empathetic.
That's why I write.
Not to teach, because books aren't teaching tools. But they are learning tools, nonetheless.
Through a book, you learn. Not learning in the sense of gaining knowledge, but the truest, deepest way to learn, which is to understand difference, to be - not just with but actually be -  someone else for a time, and through this to grow.
A good book shows you what love is. It is a tool fashioned by the most beautiful human impulse - compassion.