Recently I’ve been thinking about two reading experiences that changed my life. (Oh joy, you’re thinking, one of those posts. I know. Bear with me.)
Example No. 1. Last fall, around the same time I was working on the nonfiction book Racial Profiling: Everyday Inequality for Twenty-First Century Books, I read Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry for the first time. I’m embarrassed to admit I never read it as a kid, but I suspect a lot of white students miss out on this wonderful, wrenching novel because their teachers and librarians don’t look at the cover and think, This is a book that will matter to my kids. That’s more than just an unfortunate misconception or oversight–it’s evidence of the subtle assumptions that keep people’s minds and hearts segregated. Had I encountered this book as a kid, I would’ve been so much better equipped to understand the societal realities I was researching in connection with Racial Profiling: the sharecropping system, which got maybe one line in my high school textbook and no class discussion; the nature of separate and unequal education facilities and resources; the daily norms of white supremacy; and the very, very good reasons that a black father would warn his son that it’s impossible to truly be friends with a white child. (My early education about race relations was heavy on surface-level kumbaya moments and light on soul searching.) I’m not sure I would’ve absorbed the book’s full impact as a middle-school student, but I’m sure it would’ve enriched my perspective, made me a more empathetic human being, and prepared me to be a better ally.
|(It would’ve helped me immensely in editing this book, too.)|
Example No. 2. In January I briefly revisited a legendary seven-book series that I grew up loving but have never reread. I was surprised at how well it held up–and I realized how much of its ethos I’d internalized. Even more than certain history lessons that’ll never leave me, this series helped teach me the vital importance of knowing what you stand for and defending it with everything you’ve got. I had Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism checked out from the library at the same time last month, but I found my ethical anchoring in a very different 500-page tome.
Every so often I try to remind myself of the children’s books that–at whatever stage of my life they came to me–made a difference to me personally. Fiction, in particular, often opens mental doors that nonfiction can’t. If any of the books I edit can do that for even a handful of young readers, then I’ll be in this game for a while.