I have for long believed that Wisdom is not any mysterious quality. The fact that our becoming Wise (if, or when it happens) has more to do with our advancing age, is only further proof that it is due to our heightened Self Awareness; Awareness of the world around us; our accumulated Experiences and Knowledge; what we make of those and how we apply and link them to our view of ourselves, as well as to our world. Nothing more. No magic formula!
This brings me to Books, the source of much of our Knowledge. Literate people, all over our planet, read tons of books every year. Amazon alone sold 11 billion books during 2013. The best selling genres, though – as one statistic cited – were Romance and Erotica! Go figure!
Nevertheless, the Power of the Word – Books being one of its primary vehicles – has been acknowledged for thousands of years.
And is it any wonder then that the first thing all invaders do is plunder and then loot and burn the libraries and books of their “enemies?” This is one of Israel’s criminal and on-going projects throughout Occupied Palestine.
We have all heard the expression: The Pen is Mightier than the Sword, and, throughout time, despots and emperors have always been petrified of ink and paper. In other words, autocrats were terrified of Ideas and Thoughts. In 399BCE, Socrates was made to drink (some say he did so voluntarily) poison hemlock and perish for “refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state” and for “corrupting the youth.” In other words, he was a rebel whose political views were deemed dangerous. Jesus of Nazareth was killed for almost those same reasons, as were thousands upon thousands of others whether in Mao’s China where intellectuals and teachers were amongst the first to be murdered, to present days where in Iran or Saudi Arabia they still lash, jail, and sometimes kill, writers, journalists and thinkers. Here, in our own US, we are not entirely guilt-free either. After all, Edward Snowden and his airing of our governments malfeasance caused him to seek refuge elsewhere lest he be jailed, or worse. Julian Assange is still battling the Powers That Be who have had him practically imprisoned at the Embassy of Ecuador in London since 2012. And, despite their lame arguments as to why they are so vehemently and assiduously after Snowden and Assange, the real reason is that the Powers That Be are threatened by these heroes who chose the Pen with which to Vanquish the Sword – so to speak. There were also others in these United States who were punished for roughly similar reasons. Yes, Pens and Ideas Are Powerful Weapons indeed!
What each of us gets out of reading any book, fiction or non-fiction, depends on multiple factors foremost amongst which is our age when we read that book; our mood and what personal issues we are going through at that particular time; our lifetime experiences, baggage and circumstances. We bring all of these factors with us when we read not only a novel, a biography, a historical account but, also, any magazine article, blog or op-ed. (In fact, we bring those into everything we think, feel and do. However, today, we are talking books) This is the main reason why frequently you will find that your understanding of that particular reading was quite different from someone else’s, and that what you concluded, was not the same as another person’s interpretation.
I often forget the names of authors, or even of book titles. However, I never forget the Experience of a book. You might be wondering, what does she mean by that? I mean that I wiggle my way into every book that I am reading. I either assume the heroine’s character, or adopt the role of another character in the book and then live the story with them page by page sensing every incident, emotion and event, getting to know their world and how they relate to it. This happens whether I am reading fiction, or non-fiction. Thus if I am reading a novel about Black slaves in New Orleans I imagine what I would do if I was a slave; how I would feel as I was being raped by my “Master;” if I was pregnant with his child; how I would put up with my dismal and sub-human living conditions. It is the same when I read a novel about the Holocaust. How would I feel as I was being branded and shoved onto a train that would take me to a concentration camp; if my children were taken away from me; if I was starved, raped and tortured; as I saw my Jewish sisters undergoing all that duress? What if I was a Black or a Latina woman living in the modern day ghettos of America; working two jobs and barely being able to support my family; hearing of my innocent teenage son being brutally murdered while a white cop invents a story about the incident in order to exonerate himself? What if I am a Syrian refugee, penniless, homeless and traumatized? A Palestinian woman living in the world’s largest penal colony on the face of the planet as Israeli soldiers beat, humiliate and incarcerate, or kill, my child; trample my vegetables; bulldoze my home; twist the facts? What if I was Dr. Zhivago’s Lara? Madame Bovary? A trafficked young girl forced into a life of prostitution?
Hence, living every one of these Experiences reminds me every day that I could easily have been any one of these characters in the books that I read (there, but for the Grace of God go I?), and that going through this Experience with them enhances my Knowledge considerably; raises my Awareness about myself and my Awareness regarding the world and all its people. Hopefully, all that is making me Wiser also?!
Sometime during the past thirty years – I can’t remember exactly when – book sales in the US slumped considerably and publishers were frantic. However, in the nation that has succeeded in creating opportunities out of every setback, they created Book Clubs that became the rage overnight and proliferated across the country increasing book sales and making huge profits for publishers.
I have been a part of about four of those clubs depending on my circumstances and where I resided at any given time. I have enjoyed being a part of the discussions and chatting that take place during the meetings. However, I have found that, generally, white, suburban American women were less comfortable with books by “foreign” authors; they were not genuinely curious about other cultures; they rarely related to the characters or the storyline, and almost always judged them by a modern American yardstick, American mores and American traditions. Simply by going through the book readers’ comments on Amazon indicates that this inability to see the “other side of the coin” as they say, is what pervades whether Americans are reading “other” books or, for that matter, conducting foreign policy. Realizing this was an exasperating fact really, one which indicated to me that Americans, generally, and in contrast to what they think of themselves and profess to others, are very parochial and isolated.
I think I have read thousands of books during my lifetime. I am going to share hereunder just a few of the eye-openers that were mostly written by all those interesting “foreign” authors. I truly recommend each and every one of them, and I hope that you will get to read and enjoy all, or some, of them as much as I did.
|Americanah||Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie|
|An Unnecessary Woman||Rabih Alameddine|
|Beneath My Mother’s Feet||Amjed Qamar|
|Children of the Revolution||Dinaw Mangestu|
|Gate of the Sun||Elias Khoury|
|House of Stone||Anthony Shadid|
|Island Beneath the Sun||Isabel Allende|
|Lifted by the Great Nothing||Karim Dimechkie|
|Mornings in Jenin||Susan Abulhawa|
|Once in a Promised Land||Laila Halaby|
|Open Veins of Latin America||Eduardo Galeano|
|Say You’re One of Them||Uwen Akpan|
|Shadows of Damascus||Lilas Taha|
|Somewhere Home||Nada Awar Jarrar|
|Tasting the Sky||Ibtisam Barakat|
|The Bastard of Istanbul||Elif Shafak|
|The Blue Between Sky and Water||Susan Abulhawa|
|The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar|
|The Kite Runner||Khaled Hosseini|
|The Lanterns of the King of Galilee||Ibrahim Nasrallah|
|The Sanctuary||Raymond Khoury|
|This Is How You Lose Her||Junot Diaz|
|Unaccustomed Earth||Jhumpa Lahiri|
|Where the Streets Had a Name||Randa Abdel-Fattah|
Enjoy the Experience & Happy Reading!
Site Photographer: Tina Falkenbury at www.depictinglife.com