When I was a kid, I loved reading because it was an escape from my every day life. With books, I could travel to far off places that I feared I’d never see. Reading helped me make friends with smart kids, or nerdy kids or both, and no one judged me for any of it. In high school, a beloved teacher forced me (I said he was beloved, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a nag.) to read Studs Terkel’s Working. Written the year I was born, Working is a collection of stories unlike anything I had ever encountered in my young life. It changed the way I viewed reading and moved me into the non-fiction section of libraries from then on.
In the midst of the crazy growth and change our country is going through, I’ve plunged into PhD study on culture and education. I am elbow deep in research every day on bias, and how and why people have it, perpetuate it and live it. I often ask myself why I feel the need to understand this stuff. Wouldn’t it be easier to just study something clear cut and simple? Less emotionally agonizing? But I can’t. I’m drawn every time toward understanding. Why?
When I think about it, for me, I think it’s the reading. It is difficult to hate people when you know their story. I have read a lot of people’s stories. I have listened to a lot of people’s stories. I always want to know more. It is very difficult for me to hate. Even when I am very, very angry, I always want to know more. So, I listen and I read.
Today I share certain books with my children. I want to pass on the difficulty to hate and the desire to know people’s stories. I want to pass on the idea that they, like I, were born into privilege and that means they have a responsibility to listen, and learn, and do better. These seem good characteristic to foster in the next generation.
Here are a few of the books that have opened my mind over the years. I know no one ever comments on this blog anymore, but I sure would love if you added to the comments this time, with books. Because I know there are more out there. I know my mind has farther to go, and I would love your suggestions on how to get there. Everyone has a story and I always want to hear them.
We should all keep listening. Listening can change the world.
The Corner: A Year in the Life on an Inner City Neighborhood: David Simon and Edward Burns: Love the Wire? Tell people you love the Wire but didn’t really watch it? Read this book. If it doesn’t change the way you view poverty and privilege, nothing ever will.
Nickel and Dimed: On Getting By in America: Barbara Ehrenreich: If the corner didn’t change the way you viewed poverty, then try this one. You’ll never view a hotel toilet the same way again.
Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother-Sonia Nazario: An answer for why I abhor even talking about “The Wall”.
Night-Ellie Wiesel: I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve only recently read this one. However, I’m not sure I would have absorbed it quite the same way as a younger person. It is simple and brutal and hits right where it is supposed to: in the humanity.
Tattoos on the Heart-Gregory Boyle: I love this one because it speaks so much to me about a deep fear I have: assuming superiority over those you serve. As a helper, I am constantly worried about communicating improperly about how I feel about myself and those I help. This book is a beautiful illustration of humility, something for which I strive daily. It’s also funny and a great read.
Mountains Beyond Mountains- Tracy Kidder: This is the story of Paul Farmer, an other-wordly intelligent doctor who is called to cure disease and bring proper medical tools to Haiti, Cuba and more. This one provides a glimpse into the fear I named above. Paul Farmer balanced two lives, the one as an esteemed Harvard doctor and the one in the mud and mountains of Haiti. I learned from this one how that balance is difficult, almost as much as the fight to make the world better. But, that hope can prevail.
The Other Wes Moore-Wes Moore: I read this over the summer, even though it has been on my nightstand for years. It’s about two boys with the same name from similar places in Baltimore and New York who grow up to be men on very different paths. It is an incredible story with a “there before the grace of God go I” moment on nearly every page.
The Kids are Alright, A Memoir- Diana Welch (with Liz, Amanda and Dan Welch): This one felt familiar. This one reminded me about the importance of sibling connections. This one taught me that everyone has a story and we should never assume what it is from the way they look, where they live or how they behave in school.
Hope you can find one here you like. And maybe even one that changes your mind.