Brain aerobics are good for you

Y’know, I heard about this challenge, mostly because it’s been making people crazy, which I do actually get. I think that a lot of the people being threatened by what she wrote do fit into the categories she’s rejecting.  She’s essentially asking people to spend a year not reading books which uphold the status quo.  She’s asking us to turn away from the things that define our society for a short space of time.  And let’s face it, those of us who fit (relatively) comfortably in the defined space get a little scared when someone says, “Um, no, that’s not good enough.” We get angry and want to know why our experiences don’t fulfill everyone out there, why our attitudes towards everything outside our own cultural experiences offend some people.  Secretly we’re certain that they’re just touchy and easily offended.

So maybe I think she could have framed the challenge a bit better at least in part because in the strictest sense she’s suggesting that we spend the year reading only books by lesbians or trans women of color.  But I think she’s right in the greater sense that we need to read outside of the familiar, the commonplace, out of what is likely our comfort zone.  The fact that people are reacting so violently underscores a bigger problem, even among dedicated readers.  I always like to say that it doesn’t matter what we read so long as we do read, and honestly that’s a bottom-line position for me.  Read.  Develop the habit.  But don’t allow yourself to get stuck in a genre rut, or a self-help wasteland, or in the belief that straight, white, males are the only people worth reading.

We don’t, or at least we shouldn’t be reading simply for amusement. We should be reading to learn, to broaden ourselves, to give ourselves a window into different worlds, different lives, different experiences. We should be reading to make our own lives bigger, to make our minds and hearts bigger. We should be reading to help us understand and love our world (and the people in it) a little more.  Yes, I totally get comfort reading, and I totally get starting a book and thinking, “Oh… this is boring,” and going back to something tried and true.  But don’t let that be all you ever do.  If only for the sake of that amazing, ooky-looking thing inside your skull, don’t let that be all you ever do.  Your brain needs exercise.  Your attitudes can always use a bit of adjustment, your thought processes need to be stretched and strengthened.

I’m going to offer my own challenge: Absolutely choose to spend the year not reading white, straight Cis male authors if you feel that’s what you need from your reading.  I applaud you.  While my reading list is more varied this year than ever before — so far I have actually read, and plan to read, about three times as many women as men in 2015 and I’ve already read several books by gay men — I want to alter some of my choices for the rest of the year to reflect a broader authorship.  And so I’d like to suggest a challenge that’s a bit broader than Ms Bradford’s.  For every book you read inside your comfort zone read something that lands far outside of it.  Read about experiences different from your own, go outside your chosen genres and subject matter.  If all you ever read is fiction, read a biography, some history, some science, a book about travel. If all you ever read is genre — science-fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance — read a piece of literary fiction. If all you ever read is non-fiction, for the love of all that’s holy, read a novel or three.

Take the chance, not just today, or for a month or a year, but for always.  You stand to lose nothing and will almost certainly gain by it.

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