“A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us.”
Even in an age that is dominated by screens and technology, it is difficult to find anything that can hold power over us like a book does. Whether we are aware of it or not, the works of fiction that we read are constantly influencing ourselves and the people around us. Books help us to gain a truer understanding of the world in ways that not even the most advanced of technology can.
The hours that we spend aimlessly scrolling through social media tend to be nothing more than an attempt to cure our boredom, whilst reading a book often has the ability to change our outlook on life. A Twitter, Facebook or Instagram post might catch your attention for a short while, but the effect wears off soon, whilst the social commentaries and conversation-sparking concepts that books bring leave impacts that can quite literally last a lifetime.
To Kill A Mockingbird is a prime example of how books can spark conversation. Published during the height of America’s Civil Rights Movement when racial tensions were still riding high, Harper Lee brought light to and challenged the deeply rooted social inequalities that were prevalent throughout America. By portraying ideas such as good vs. evil and the concept of morality, To Kill A Mockingbird presented these social divisions and prejudices as completely unreasonable and irrational, and therefore criticised and challenged American society.
Even now, more than 50 years after its publication, To Kill A Mockingbird still holds a certain degree of relevance. Racial tensions and inequality are unfortunately still commonplace, and the fact that a Mississippi school district removed the book from its curriculum because it made students “uncomfortable” further proves that there is further to go and that the book and its messages still need to be read. The effect that this book had not only America but the rest of the world too was massive, and it is unlikely that any post that we see as we scroll through social media will experience the same extent of longevity.
That’s not to say that technology and social media aren’t important. The things we read online often stop us from being trapped in a bubble of the familiar and give us access to what is going on across the globe, be it good or bad. Combine this with the power of a book, and your understanding of the world grows tenfold. Whilst social media often tells us what is happening in the world, the why isn’t always made clear. Books answer the why for us — they give us a stronger insight into human nature and desires, which are ultimately what drive world events. Books can’t predict what’s going to happen to the world, but they can explain it.
Take Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo sapiens Agenda for example. In a time where the issue of gay rights is more prevalent than ever, Twitter is full of people questioning things like the necessity of Pride, or why coming out is such fragile and delicate matter for so many LGBTQ+ people. This book articulates the answers to some of these questions more coherently than a Twitter thread can. It depicts the pain of being outed and, through Simon’s friends all but abandoning him when he needed them the most, the book demonstrates the lack of understanding that so many people still have about the difficulties that LGBTQ+ people face every day. People forget that, because they can openly be who they are, some LGBTQ+ people live in the fear of people finding out who they really are. People perceive these problems as insignificant when in reality they are potentially dangerous and life-shattering, and this book somewhat brings light to that.
For me, however, the most powerful books are the ones that offer me a commentary on my own life. Finding a book that feels somewhat like I’m reading about myself in a parallel universe is nothing short of extraordinary because someone finally has finally penned down the thoughts and feelings that I thought no one else would ever understand. It almost seems like you know too much when you read books like these — relating to another character so completely that you understand them from their most complicated thoughts down to their tiniest mannerisms seems almost invasive.
It was Elio Perlman’s passion for love and life in André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name that truly opened my eyes to the power of a work of fiction — his overwhelming desires and his ability to see so much beauty in the world around him struck a struck a chord within me. The only difference between Elio and myself is that he wasn’t afraid to pursue his passions, whilst my fear of the unknown had always stopped me from following mine. Call Me By Your Name showed that pursuing my own passions might end in misery and heartbreak, but it also showed me that it going after what I want — regardless of the outcome — might make my human experience more fulfilling.
Books show us the hypotheticals of our own lives — they answer our what-ifs and show us our could-have-beens, and make us realise a side of ourselves and the rest of the world that we might never have seen otherwise. If you don’t like reading, it’s because you haven’t found your book yet — when you do, you’ll turn over the last page knowing yourself so much better, and you’ll see the world in a completely new light, because the power that the right work of fiction has over us overrides almost everything else.