Thursday, March 16, 2017

Read Wide, Read Deep

By Suzanne Morgan Williams

    I was just giving school visits in rural Kansas with fellow author Terri Farley. It was great fun and we saw students from grades K-12 Together we did a family night that included folks from ages 3 to maybe 90. It was all about reading and writing. I kept thinking how differently one would experience the world from the open quiet prairies of Western Kansas than from, say, San Francisco Chinatown’s frantic pace. How can people, having such different perceptions understand each other. Time after time, I told the students to read. Read widely, read everything, read what you’re interested in and what makes you uncomfortable. This blog is about historical fiction, but today, I just want to talk about the power of books.

    Before my novel, Bull Rider, was published I wrote a dozen nonfiction books and that research covered a lot of history. I can tell you, that when a totalitarian government comes to power, or when one nation conquers another, one of the first things they do is burn the books. After this had happened a few times in ancient China, the people took to carving Buddhist texts in rock – harder to destroy. Books transfer cultural values, they provide information, and they give their readers the power of thinking beyond themselves and their own experience. Books level our experiences, allowing a sixth grader in a town of 350 in Kansas to share the same stories and information, as a sixth grader in Los Angeles or Chicago. It lets a grandmother who hasn’t taken a science class in fifty years understand what her grandchildren are learning in astronomy at school. And it let’s all of us see the world from multiple points of view, some comforting and familiar, some difficult or surprising. Reading stretches our minds and hearts.

    So bring on the books. Hand them to the kids you know. Let’s read about girls whose lives have been upended by war in Afghanistan, about boys who survived the U.S. Civil War only to get drawn in by the Ku Klux Klan, about the Russian Czars, and kids living on Alcatraz with Al Capone. Mostly, let's go for a variety of books, a mental feast, a healthy mix of the known and unknown. And let’s use what we read to better understand each other and our world.

    Read widely, read deeply, and read with your heart and mind wide open.

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