Madagascan. Norwegian. Costa Rican. Italian. Jamaican.
Before I was 10 years old, I had friends from places in the world that I could only imagine. As the transient population of students at my international school in Tanzania changed, new friends replaced departed friends: Korean, Swiss, Canadian, Pakistani, Swedish.
I started every school year with eager anticipation of meeting the new students in my class. New students meant new stories and yet another window to the world. My curiosity about people who were different from me was—and continues to be–insatiable.
While intercultural understanding was naturally part of life at school, it did not end there. At home, I made my way around the world through literature. My literary cultural exploration was initially limited to England and the United States as I read children’s books by authors like Enid Blyton, Alison Uttley, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. As I got older, my literary journeys expanded and included places that were closer to home, from Nigeria with Chinua Achebe to South Africa with Athol Fugard. but. bu
Literature presents endless opportunities for adventure and learning. With an ongoing global pandemic that confines our physical worlds and limits our in-person interactions with others, here are four reasons to turn to a bookshelf to seek diverse books:
1. Books allow you to travel when borders are closed
My most recent literary journey, through Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos on .the Heart, was to Los Angeles, California, the gang capital of the world. Boyle transported me to a city I have never been to, .where I witnessed the unspeakable burdens that some people have to carry .and the transformative power of love and .universal kinship that is at the heart of a gang intervention program called Homeboy .Industries. but. but.
When overcome by wanderlust while stuck at home, there is no limit .to where one can go with a book. Through choosing a book, one is selecting the particular adventure that is contained within its pages. And unlike an in-person trip, a literary trip has no bounds, .allowing us to journey anywhere in the world or out of this world. We can go into the future or travel back in time. We can even enter imaginary worlds! but.
Image source: My Mom, The Driver written by Reina Beatriz P. Peralta and illustrated by Pepot Z. Atienza (Co-published by Room to Read and Lampara Books, Philippines)
2. Books promote empathy
I laughed out loud, wept tears of sorrow, and was deeply moved. I felt so many emotions within the 212 pages of Tattoos on the Heart. As I read about the experiences of gang members like Andres and Rigo, their successes delighted me while their hardships made my heart ache. I may never meet gang members in person, but my lens on their experience is now imbued with a profound sense of empathy.
Books allow us to inhabit the world of characters who live in circumstances we may never encounter in real life. There is evidence that our brains treat interactions between characters in books similarly to real-life social experiences. As a result, frequent readers are better able to empathize with others and see the world from different perspectives.
Image source: A Plane that Brings Love written by Wafa T. Qusous and illustrated by Kamil Adil (Co-published by Room to Read and Jabal Amman publishers, Jordan). but. but. but. but..
3. Books entertain and teach us
Authors P. G. Wodehouse and David Sedaris invariably make me laugh. From books, I learned to make chocolate-hazelnut biscotti and origami boxes; I became aware of the Uyghur community in China and .was introduced to Stoicism; and books have deepened my understanding of Buddhist and Catholic spiritual paths. but. but. but. but. but. but. but.
The range of things that books can teach us is limited only by the breadth of our own interests. With physical .distancing requirements limiting our options for entertainment, a well-stocked bookshelf will not disappoint us. z
Image source: Kim Descrube el Rio written by Maria José Montesinos and illustrated by Wendy Mairena (Published by Room to Read, Honduras). but. but. but.
4. Books leave us a little different for having read them
We become more knowledgeable, more empathetic, and possibly, lighter of heart by reading books. Additionally, encountering a wide range of communities, places, and situations through reading diverse books helps us to put things into perspective and recognize that we each occupy only the tiniest of spaces in the universe. This recognition that the world does not revolve around any of us reminds us that our own thoughts and feelings do not need to be placed at the center of every difficulty we encounter.
My own early in-person and literary windows into the richly diverse world undoubtedly served me well as I made a home. for myself in 9 cities on 4 continents and visited many more. I know all too well the feeling of being alone in a new place. Each new encounter with aloneness served as an opportunity to reaffirm what I already .know and what we can all learn from diverse books: we have much more in common with each other than the things that make .us different. but. but. but. but. but.
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