Friday, April 13, 2012

Superpowers 101: Reading Books

I love reading. I reached an age in my teen years where I thought there was nothing to read but classics. I didn't read a book for fun until I was in my late 20's. That is when I read Harry Potter. I realized that I love fantasy. I love YA and children's fiction. (I also like biographies but that is beside the point.)

I made frequent visits to the small libraries at our Belgian duty station. The librarian at one library knew me and my tastes. One day she handed me a book. "This just came in. Why don't you read it and tell me if it's any good."

I had a few other books that I was eager to read so that book sat around until it was almost due. I finally started it. And quickly finished it! I LOVED it! It was Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. I read other books by this author and enjoyed them also. A few months after reading Princess Academy, it was awarded a Newbery Honor, a runner-up to the Newbery Medal for "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." I was thrilled. I felt like one of my friends had been recognized!

Books have that kind of effect on people sometimes. We get so attached to the story, the characters, even the authors at times. Why? What is it about a book that makes it so dear to us?

Not long after this experience I read another book that had been catching my eye on the library shelf. You might have heard of it. It was called Twilight.

It was not at all what I expected. I tore through this series as well. I dragged my kids to the PX the morning Breaking Dawn was released so I could find out what happened. I knew I was a bit obsessed. I thought of it as an indulgence. We were still living overseas and Twilight mania hadn't really hit there...yet.

I was shocked and even disturbed by the obsession I found when I arrived back in the USA. There was a lot of backlash, too. People were passionately in love or passionately in hate! It was crazy!

I read a few articles that were less favorable. I had to admit they made valid arguments. In fact, they were similar to my own concerns as I was reading. Like the maturity of the subject matter. Or the fine line the characters walk (and often cross) between what is acceptable and what isn't. I read those books as a mother, thinking about the standards I wanted for my own children.

The problem with reading those articles is that they swayed me to their way of thinking. I no longer saw the books with the pros and cons I had originally seen. I no longer felt the same way about the story or its message. This has been a disappointment. My reading experience was ruined. The deeper question is, were they right?

I recently read another popular series, The Hunger Games. I had seen many articles and blog posts about this series as well. I intentionally avoided the opinions of others. I wanted to read this series and make my own decision. I wanted to decide for myself whether it was worth reading or not. I liked these books also. I found much that was insightful and thought-provoking. Then I read some of those "anti-Hunger Games" blog posts.

I found the protests weak and petty. I suddenly saw those critics as shallow and mean. I was shocked that they focused on small details to support their "shun everything" mind-set. I was annoyed with myself for ever thinking they were people I might look to for insight or wisdom.

This time their toxic words did not change me. They did not influence my feelings about the story. If anything I felt encouraged that I could find value and worth. I found new meaning in the 13th article of faith "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy we seek after these things." Could it mean that we seek the praiseworthy where others see trash? Is it the ability to skim off the bad and retain that which has value?

How does that translate to people? Do we see value in everyone? Or do we focus on the undesirable and possibly obvious flaws and weaknesses?

The point of all this is that we each have the power within us to discern right and wrong, good from evil. We each have the ability to think, to reason, to compare. Ultimately, we choose how to view the world around us. Are we judging books (and people) by their covers? By their blurbs? By the reviews of critics? OR do we take the time to open the book, read it for our selves and make a judgement based on our personal experience?

1 comment:

Amy said...

I love this post! I read Harry Potter when the rest of my family listened to the anti-Potters and thought it was "of the devil". Now they (Katie and Mom, the boys in my family don't read for fun) have read them all as well and judged for them selves. I have yet to convince them to read Hunger Games, but I am working on it!