The joy of reading is a very common topic of essays in the educational curriculum of the country. Students have been cramming the benefits of reading for a very long time for all the wrong purposes. Although it is an undeniable fact that reading gives immense pleasure and joy while enhancing knowledge at the same time, there is a much bigger role it can play in shaping up the person that someone grows up to be. Reading has a profound effect on the way one thinks or perceives the world and thus it is important that one consciously exposes him/herself to varied reading experiences to become more cosmopolitan in thoughts and personality.
How reading can shape minds
Due to the blurring of borders and comparatively easy flow of literary content that occurred in the past decade, readers now have access to a plethora of international books that were once out of bounds. Traditionally, reading habits in the country concentrated largely on native Bangla literature and English books by British/American writers. However, as more and more writers from around the world have started to use English to deliver their stories and ideas, the array of literary content now accessible to Bangladeshi readers is much wider.
There is a very interesting aspect of reading such books from international writers that probably has remain unexplored by even many regular readers. Every writer of fiction/non-fiction picks up cues from his/her natural habitat. People usually write about the things that they experienced in their lives, the way they tackled their struggles, the way they achieved their successes and the social/cultural factors that were at play. Now, as the readers go through the stories, they encounter the context in which the story is set in.
For example, Afghan-born American writer Khaled Hosseini's books make a vivid portrayal of the war-torn Afghanistan in his books, the despairing lives of women or the destruction of educational and cultural media (books, artwork etc) under the Taliban rule. It also follows a somewhat accurate trail of events in the Afghan-Soviet war and the sufferings of the once flourishing cities to get back on their feet. Elif Shafak, a Turkish writer, takes her readers through the lamp-adorned streets of Turkey, introduces us to the protective amulets worn by Turks as part of superstitious beliefs, points out to us the class difference in Turkey and the disparity in the lifestyles. Man Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy, in her book, 'The Ministry of Utmost Happiness' sheds light on multiple issues avoided by traditional media. The book travels through the miserable status of transgender people in society, the scenario of locked down Kashmir, the death of innocent civilians as a causality of a war, which is incomprehensible to many.
Now, when a reader encounters these social and cultural norms or lifestyles in books set in various backgrounds, s/he unconsciously becomes educated on a wide range of cultural values around the world, about the struggles of people in different countries around the world. S/he develops empathy towards people and starts being open to the socio-geopolitical debates that helps not only in sharpening mental faculties but also holding a global mindset that focuses on the good and bad of life equally. It encourages readers to travel, to work for the betterment of those in woes but most importantly it makes readers realise the blessed life they are living.
Reading thus impacts lives in facets others than its conventional notion of knowledge enhancement and joy. It is a gift, which if utilised well, can help in creating a much more empathetic and peaceful world with responsible citizens.
A planned approach
Although a lot of the books by international writers are today critically acclaimed and thus popular among readers, in order to make the best out of it, readers can take a planned approach once in a while. With the vast information available on internet free of cost, it can be helpful to do some background research to identify books set in different geographies that might help one to experience different cultures or societies across countries and borders. A popular tracker circulating in the reader's community is a to-read list that includes reading a book by say- an African writer, a feminist writer or a book set in a certain time period (eg. the Elizabethan era). This is a fun way for targeted reading and can helps one in making versatile reading choices.
If the mere act of reading books can bring a positive change in this world divided by disputes and wars based on religion, cultures, values-- it is high time that this act be promoted as a necessity rather than a hobby. The world now needs conscientious citizens more than ever before and such a change in mindset can begin by taking an active interest in multicultural reading.
The writer completed her BBA from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka and is now working in the central finance team of a financial institution.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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