The Importance of Thought Provoking

I like books that are uplifting and offer an escape from the quotidian world, but I don’t want to just turn off my brain and float. (That’s a valid goal for books too, just not the one on this review site!) The books that I find the most invigorating, uplifting, and that remain in my mind for days or weeks, are the ones where I learned something new and followed a character arc to a richer understanding of the world.

Possibly the very best thing I love about reading is that I can learn more about how other people think. I believe that reading broadly makes us more empathetic humans and better problem-solvers. Every book has two layers of discovering character: the author’s perspective and awareness, and the journey of the character themselves. In a good book, both are enlightening. 

I love to finish a book and realize that I learned something about the world, without feeling like I’ve just read an informational book. I do my research and I certainly read non-fiction, but I believe a well-researched, well-written fiction book can be the best way to learn about a new place, concept, period, or perspective. Personally, I tend to dive in and read a bunch of novels with something in common, which lets me explore the same idea from different perspectives. For instance, I might read half a dozen books with Shakespeare as a minor character; or later I read several different authors writing about the American South in the early 20th century. 

I also read a lot of fantasy, which at first glance might seem like it doesn’t teach us as much directly about our world. However, I think that sometimes we can see more clearly or focus differently when we are a step removed from the real world. How did the author solve problems that we have with our educational or political system, or do the problems in the fantasy world highlight difficulties we have here? The character development is of supreme importance when it is removed from the practical details of life and history. (Of course, then there are all the fantasy books with all these complicated magical systems and constantly running from monsters jumping out at them, and little character development at all. I don’t read those.)

Contemporary fiction can also intrigue and challenge us. I enjoy a story which incorporates aspects from our normal lives but still transports us to another world.

One specific goal that I have with my reading is to seek out authors with different lived experiences, especially marginalized communities. For a while, I looked for authors who were writing about their own perspectives with immigration. I read all the east African authors I could find while living there. A couple years ago, I gathered a lot of Native American authors, especially for middle grade/young adult. In 2022, I specifically sought out Black romance authors. If one reads just one book or author from a certain perspective, there is the danger of assuming that that author speaks for their whole community. But if I read ten books in a row from a certain community, I hope that it brings me a greater understanding. That said, there is always more to find, always more to read, and always more perspectives to understand. 

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