Tuesday, November 8, 2016

0 Voting, Empathy, and Passing the Creative Spark and the Joy of Reading

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” 
~ James Baldwin

I have words pouring onto the page right now, which always makes it hard to stop and blog. I was actually going to skip the post today, but I just had a phone interview about an upcoming event and the reporter asked me whether I like going to reader events and if so why. Thinking about how to answer, I realized that, for me, that's all about passing the creative spark and the joy of reading. 

Today, on the day of one of the most cynical and least-hopeful election I've had the misfortune to witness, I think we need reading more than ever.

People talk a lot about reading as escapism. But it's so much more than that. 

“I think the act of reading imbues the reader with a sensitivity toward the outside world that people who don't read can sometimes lack. I know it seems like a contradiction in terms; after all reading is such a solitary, internalizing act that it appears to represent a disengagement from day-to-day life. But reading, and particularly the reading of fiction, encourages us to view the world in new and challenging ways...It allows us to inhabit the consciousness of another which is a precursor to empathy, and empathy is, for me, one of the marks of a decent human being.”
~ John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things
  • Reading lets us envision being characters outside ourselves in a way that we don't do when navigating through our ordinary lives. And in a time when society is so polarized, being able to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else is critical. 
  • Reading lets us explore ourselves and crystalize our values. As we step into the lives of a group of characters, we absorb the decisions that those characters make and--consciously or unconsciously--we compare those against what we would do in that situation. Along the way, we strengthen our interior moral compasses. 
  • Reading lets us interject ourselves into the pages. Books leave room for us to exercise our imaginations. We picture the setting, the characters, the action through the filter of our own lives and the book becomes uniquely ours,  a blend of the author's imagination and our own.
  • Reading lets us share something with others about which we are passionate. This happens with film and television, too, but discussing our favorite books and characters is more intimate because we see the characters and the action more intimately.
To me, going to festivals and author events is about passing along the joy of reading, but it's also about passing the creative spark back and forth between readers and authors. Among that audience, there may be handful of readers who will go on to become the next generation of writers that keep the  joy of reading alive for another generation. If I can say something, offer something, that can be a part of encouraging that, that's the best feeling in the world.

Happy reading and writing, everyone!

Go out and vote!


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