From The Hanover Post December 3rd, 2020 issue, Opinion Page
“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.”Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop
We can all see that hatred, intolerance, and bigotry exist in the world as destructive forces – and they also exist here in Canada. We are not immune to these insidious attitudes. So what is the antidote to bigotry? How does a society nurture fairness and acceptance for all?
I often hear that education is the key, but I would be more specific: reading is the key to developing empathy and understanding. The folksinger Pete Seeger had the words “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender” painted on his banjo.
I often think the same can be said for public libraries and the books they contain. When you read, you enter the mind of another. You see the world through their eyes. You feel their feelings, experience their life as they reveal it to you. When we read books that are about lives, cultures, and experiences different to our own, we take that new understanding into ourselves and it becomes part of us. This can begin when we are very young, and minds and hearts that have been opened by reading will not close against those who are different from us. Books are empathy generators.
If you would like to begin to bring more diversity into your reading, the library staff can help. You can read excellent books – both fiction and non-fiction – by authors of many cultures, nations, genders, and ways of thinking. Want to read about what it’s like to be autistic? Try Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” or John Elder Robison’s “Look Me in the Eye”. Works by Canadian indigenous writers have surged onto the bestseller lists: from Richard Wagamese to Eden Robinson to Thomas King, you can read and experience life from a First Nations perspective. Writers of Asian ancestry like Roselle Lim, Kevin Kwan, and Souvankham Thammavongsa, winner of this year’s Giller Prize, are making waves in publishing as well. Mark Sakamoto’s “Forgiveness” is a top favourite among book clubs everywhere. Books by Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead, Esi Edugyan, and Jesmyn Ward can show you how the world looks from the Black perspective. And wonderful books like “Let Me Tell You My Story” can tell you what it’s like to come to North America as a refugee with nothing but hope and courage.
Books can be mirrors, helping us to understand our own lives and experiences; but they can also be windows, through which we can see other lives, other experiences, and our common humanity. We at the library invite you to come look through some windows. The view is breathtaking.