Being a person with almost no self-discipline, I have many pleasant addictions, but none as satisfying, or perhaps I should say insatiable, as reading. When I finish one good book, I immediately look for the next one and consequently, don’t always remember more than the gist of a book. I can happily read two or thee James Lee Burke novels, what I call TV reading, and forget the previous one as soon as I start the second. Then there are the books that mark you for life. Almost anything written by Barbara Kingsolver is indelibly etched into my memory.
In the last twenty years or so, my taste for historical fiction has evolved into historical non-fiction. No doubt, the recently popular form of narrative non-fiction gently lured me away from the Gone With the Wind of my youth to the stark realities of The Other Slavery – the Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. The trouble with reading books that chronical the past is that one’s view of the present is altered.
Most of the baby boomer generation, have never known anything but peace and prosperity in this country. Even the poor people, though horribly marginalized by comparison to my lower-middle-class life, are generally not poor by the standards of third world countries. The wars this country has embarked upon in my lifetime have not noticeably impacted my idyllic routine. But, through the lens of unflinching writers, my vision has been re-focused. My ideology is constantly being reshaped, refined, and questioned.
I was raised in a staunchly conservative, strictly religious family. The foundation of all of my ideas are based on the teachings of the church and my mid-western upbringing. My knee-jerk reactions are still reflective of that. Nobody was more surprised than I to discover that as my taste in reading became more eclectic, my views broadened and my alt-right ideas were turned upside down.
I believe I have an idea for bringing Americans together, to make America great, so to speak. Every voter, every teacher, every politician, and every blogger should read really good books every day. (Yeah, too many everys in that sentence, I know) Reading an article in a magazine or online is okay for reinforcing what you already believe; but reading a real book, written by someone who has no agenda other than to INFORM you of what has happened before you came into being, is enlightening in ways you can not fathom unless you do it.
I’m not suggesting that you suspend critical thinking when you read a book anymore than you should when reading online or watching news on TV. I’m just saying that when an author goes to the trouble to research a topic carefully, annotates his findings diligently, and presents them factually, without pandering to sentimentality, you can learn a great deal about the world. Even if the only thing you learn is how the people who voted for Donald Trump came to that decision, you have learned something valuable. Chances are, if they had read the same books I have, they might have still followed their deeply ingrained biases about gender and the status of this country. But they would have elected him with eyes wide open instead of voting on hope that he would make them safe from the nasty people who look and speak differently than we do.