Read Better. Do Better.

May 26, 2021

Read what you want.

Never apologize for your reading taste.

Every book its reader; every reader her book.

These are cornerstone principles of readers’ advisory and ones that the library’s summer reading program promotes with a passion.

If you’re a reader who primarily reads nonfiction, though, I want to promote the virtues of fiction and possibly persuade you to dip your toes into an imagined rather than factual world. There is often a misperception that nonfiction is serious while fiction is frivolous. This idea emerged quite naturally along with the earliest novels, which were deemed sensational and dangerous to sensitive or weaker minds (uh, this means women in case you were wondering).

Of course there are as many reasons for reading as there are readers. If you’re reading to understand, grow, or learn, though, fiction is your best bet. And, not just fiction, but specifically literary fiction, has shown to be the most valuable for increasing empathy. 

Why literary fiction? Literary fiction tends to be more character-driven, allowing readers to inhabit another’s thoughts in a way that more plot driven fiction does not. Literary fiction can also help us face difficult truths in a way that nonfiction cannot. We experience it through the lens of another person. In other words, we can get out of our own way. 

I attended a community conversation Tuesday night hosted by the Tulsa Authority for Economic Opportunity, the City of Tulsa, and the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Equity and listened as one participant urged individuals to listen to and believe the experiences of people of color without defensiveness. Until we can fully open ourselves to the pain of another human, we will continue to come to impasses in our conversations. 

I understand that fiction won’t save the world, but art is a piece of the healing we need. In Emily St. John Mandel’s brilliant book Station Eleven, the world as we know it (cue REM) has collapsed. What remains and brings comfort are old newspapers, an unpublished graphic novel, a traveling symphony that performs Shakespeare, a museum, and a library. Add Joy Harjo’s poetry to this list and you have some of the things that got me through the last year. 

As we observe the Centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, my hope is that our reading will lead to better understanding and positive action for change. Also, I really do think that fiction will save the world. Or, at least fiction, a traveling symphony, and live theater. 

Read better. Do Better. Here’s a list to get you started: History through Fiction.