It’s becoming harder and harder to stick to the bookish parts of the internet. The news gets increasingly disturbing and, really, one shouldn’t stick one’s head in the sand and hope it all blows over. All the anger I see on the faces of people at Trump rallies or hear in the things that people are shouting at immigrants in America and Britain lets me know that it’s not going to blow over any time soon. The other thing all this anger tells me is that reading diversely is more important than ever. We are in more dire need of empathy for each other than I think we’ve ever been in my lifetime.
Part of the magic of reading is how a good story can transport us into the mind of someone who lives very differently from ourselves. The librarians and readers I follow online have used this property of literature to respond to tragedies and hatred in the best way we know how: by creating reading lists.
Of course, the challenge is to get these recommended books into the heads of people who most need a dose of empathy. The angriest people I see on the news are people who, I think, have drawn up boundaries of frustration, misinformation, fear, and any number of other negative emotions around themselves. Pushing a book on someone who is not ready to listen is guaranteed to fail. My reading advice to my fellow Americans and other readers in divided countries is to keep trying, however. Watch for curiosity. Look for openings where a timely suggestion might be well-received.
Whatever you do, don’t stop reading yourself. It might seem like more important things are going on in the world than reading something you’ve had on hold from the library for ages. Reading broadly can keep your eyes open and keep at bay the fear of the Other and the Different. We need that now.