In 2001, the world turned its attention to Afghanistan. In the wake of 9-11, everyone suddenly wanted to know more about this small country in Asia where Osama Bin Laden had planned and orchestrated the attack on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon. All of a sudden the media was full of experts who wanted to explain the Taliban to us, explain what dangerous crazy extremists they were, and why we needed to go over there and take them out.
There is a whole 'nother post in the question of why the US did nothing to help the women in Afghanistan until aafter 9-11, but the question I want to pose is whether things in Afghanistan would have happened the way they did if A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini had been published in the 1990s instead of after 9-11. If more people had known about the conditions for women and girls in Afghanistan, would more have been done to remove the Taliban before Bin Laden moved in? I realize this is a fairly simplistic view of geopolitics, but as someone who believes in the power of reading to create understanding across cultures, I have to believe that increased knowledge of world issues would somehow lead to different results.
Teachers will tell you that reading opens doors in your imagination, that by reading you can explore new worlds and escape to exotic places. And that is certainly true. But there are authors who are out there writing truth to power, authors who have written works that hold up injustice and demand us to look, not to turn our heads. And because reading is transactional, those of us who read those authors and those books can't help but be changed by the experience.
Obviously non-fiction seems like a good place to start when talking about books that can lead to social change. And to be sure there are plenty of thoughtful, passionately argued non-fiction books that can lead to greater insights about the issues of human rights and justice. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen is an example of non-fiction that is both informational and emotional. But what about those of us that prefer fiction? Well I say that sometimes, fiction is the best way to highlight social issues. Fictional narratives on the scale of A Thousand Splendid Suns do more than tell us the facts and figures about oppression-they allow us for a period of time to live the lives of those affected by injustice. They give us a cultural context for the what we see on the news. And making connections with characters that lead such seemingly different lives can bring home to us just how similar the human experience is, regardless of place or time.
So, what should you be reading? I've added a new page to the blog, where I've listed some recommendations of books that I have read or read enough about that I can attest to their worth. If anyone has other titles, just put them in the comments. All of the blurbs come from Goodreads or Amazon. Some of them are difficult to read, some are joyful and uplifting, but all highlight issues affecting people somewhere in the world. As that prolific author Anonymous said, "Nobody's free until everybody's free."