12 Apr

Can books alter your world view? This is a question I've been considering recently, especially in the light of efforts to ban certain titles from school libraries in the USA.

When I think of my own reading, books were initially an escape, a way of transporting yourself to other worlds and realities. 

As a child I loved Tove Jansson's Moomintroll series with its quirky characters who lived in Moomin Valley. Curious Moomintroll, wandering Snuffkin, dependable Moominmamma, the terrifying Hattifatteners and super sinister Groke.

In teenage years, I developed a passion for crime (as a subject not a pursuit!). I devoured Agatha Christie books, loving how she set a puzzle, gave you all the clues, but still managed to fool you most of the time. This led to a lifelong love of crime fiction.

As I grew older and began to read novels from around the world, I found that literature was a great way to access other cultures. The writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende engendered a passion for South America which led to me to spend a few months there absorbing the vibrant latin American culture.

I’ve come to realise that books, at their best, not only entertain but also widen our horizons. Seeing the world from a different point of view, is something I feel we can all benefit from in these increasingly polarised times. The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma-Jane Kirby is very thought-provoking true account. An ordinary man, who is out on his boat with a group of friends, is plunged into the refugee crisis when he comes across a sinking vessel packed with desperate people. As a reader it makes you wonder how you would react in the same circumstances.

In an alternative perspective, the point of view of a Syrian refugee is beautifully depicted by Christy Lefteri in her novel, The Beekeeper of Aleppo. The reader sees the harrowing circumstances, the human stories and the courage of the dispossessed who are all too often demonised. I think that it is often in the telling of individual stories that empathy with others is achieved.

A book that has resonated with me especially, is Susan Cains' book Quiet, which lays out the point of view of the introverts of this world. She argues that the modern world favours the extrovert personality. We are increasingly told to 'put ourselves out there' and network. In schools and universities, PowerPoint presentations are often an alternative to essays and workplaces love brainstorming meetings. People with large circles of friends and active social lives are held up as ideals, but this is only one way to live your life. It is equally legitimate to prefer to write an essay, to suggest ideas via email and to have a quieter life. The partying that extroverts might thrive on, introverts often find draining.

Her compelling argument is that we need all kinds of personality types in this world and it is sometimes the quiet reflectors who are the greatest innovators in society. 

Quiet affected me so much that its central message fed into the narrative of my book Dying on the Inside.

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