Books taught me the world isn’t black and white

Reading fosters real change

Image by: Herbert Wang
Claire believes reading is imperative for development. 

Do you remember those reading assignments we had in elementary school, where you had to read ten pages and then write a page about them, or the Scholastic book fair? 

These activities inspired both joy and hatred amongst my classmates. For me, those down times and assignments in class helped foster my love of books and reading. Books became my refuge and comfort when life became difficult; they were a constant source of adventure. Even more than being my comfort, they taught me about people, the world, and the nuances of all things in between.

Growing up into a teenager, then an adult, is no small feat, and I experienced my fair share of growing pains and difficulty. However, throughout those times and the whole of my life, books remained my teachers and comforts.

As I’ve gotten older, my taste in books has changed and so have their lessons. As a child, you read simple books that give you clear and straightforward lessons, but as an adult, the lessons contained within the literature become more complex and in-depth.

I remember staying up far past my bedtime, reading underneath the covers with a flashlight and waiting with bated breath to see what would happen next. The sheer anticipation, joy, heartbreak, anger, and sadness conveyed were fantastical things to behold, and as a young person trying to sort out how to deal with my own internal life, books were illuminating.

In elementary school, author Eric Walters came as a guest speaker. During his talk, he mentioned selling small books that you could sneak underneath your table or desk to read. All at once, the entire class turned and looked at me because I’d been doing just that earlier in the week and had gotten in trouble for it. It’s moments like this I look back on and think fondly of because they made me who I am today.

I’ve always been drawn to the stories found in books—the escape and perspective they provided me, as well as the characters that inspired loyalty, love, or even hatred. There’s nothing quite like finding a main character you relate to so completely or a villain you love to hate. Reading allows you to live a thousand lives and become a thousand different people, all of whom have different motivations, needs, and challenges.

It’s so important for every young person to learn early that life is not black and white. So much of life resides in the grey and learning to look at events and people in this way makes you not only a better person, but a more well-rounded person.

Reading gives you the unique opportunity to remember life is not black and white. It teaches you there are always multiple sides to a story: the villain may not actually be a villain at all, and the hero may turn out to be the villain.

Reading a novel from the viewpoint of the villain allows you to see the motivations behind their actions and to empathize with someone who’d otherwise be considered evil. Reading from the hero’s point of view can reveals their true intentions, noble or otherwise.

This grey area in understanding motives and actions taught me that what you see is not always what you get, and to look not only at a person’s words, but also at their actions and motivations.

Books gave me a broader perspective on the world and taught me not to judge people too quickly or harshly.

They also taught me to look at the whole of a person, broken pieces and all. It’s that perspective that allows you to put yourself in the shoes of others and consider where they’re coming from.

To be able to look beyond what others want you to see is an important skill you will carry through your life.

I’m not saying that books alone will teach you everything you need to know about the world, but they do provide you with insight into both sides of difficult situations and force you to see from other perspectives.

As I got older, my taste in books tended to be towards fiction and fantastical worlds so unlike my own. Within those books, I found powerful female main characters, plotlines so complex and mesmerizing I could hardly believe they came from someone’s imagination, and motivations that were relatable or not. I also found books that encompassed and reflected humanity’s fundamental struggles and potential to do great things.

I adore books. I adore the worlds built, the characters developed, the struggles overcome, and the work that goes into them.

More than anything, I adore the community that surrounds them. It’s amazing to see so many people come together and discuss emphatically and excitedly book series and characters.

BookTok, for example, is a community of readers that post and come together on TikTok to share opinions, recommendations, and reviews on books. It warms my heart to see so many lively discussions and debates about some of my favourite characters and worlds.

At the end of the day, books and reading give you the space to dream of a life that could be and how you can make it better—a skill that’s all too important in our world today. We need dreamers and those willing to implement those dreams to improve society, and books give us the capability of sharing our dreams and passions with the world.

I encourage everyone to try reading something that interests you, because it’s true what they say: “Words have the power to change us.” Thanks, Cassandra Clare.


books, change, development, Growing up, Reading

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