I recently read Neil Gaiman’s ‘Art Matters’ where he talks about how books and our imagination can change the world. I’ve been teaching literature to children for a couple of years and in the age of smartphones and Sparknotes, it has become virtually impossible to convince my students to read. Any prescribed novel has summaries online or even better for them, movie adaptations. I took it upon myself to make them read through class reading competitions, chapter wise reading logs, whatever it took. Some students still ask me why I was so insistent about them reading. My answer to them has been simple, reading changed my life. I want it to change theirs too.
Gaiman says, “Fiction builds empathy. Fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.” That’s the truly amazing thing about stories. You can start a story and some hundred pages later, you aren’t the same person anymore. Stories and imagination are seen to belong to daydreamers and idealists. But what stories really hold within them is possibilities of what the world can be, the good, the bad and the truly ugly. Books take stories from history and bring them alive. They show such terrifying possibilities of our future that shake us to our very core because we see our dystopian novels coming alive every day.
Currently, the world is seized by protests across countries. Protests against climate change, against governments, against everything that is wrong with the world. All across the country, students are standing at the forefront of protests against the government. There is a reason these protests will always be led by the youth, by children and students. It’s because they read. They see the eerie similarities with what has happened in the past and how history is merely repeating itself. They read dystopian novels and know the madness our civilization can descend to. But their books also teach them about fighting for what is right. Books remind them that it takes one person to save a civilization, that teenagers can defeat Dark Lords and that dragons can be defeated. Fiction teaches us about strength and more importantly about empathy. It teaches us of those who are different from us and how sometimes even just one act of bravery and love, is enough to take down evil. Stories hold in their pages unending ideas and possibilities.
Reading can be the subtlest and strongest act of rebellion in a revolution. There’s a reason why the Nazis systematically destroyed books across Germany in the 1930s. There’s a reason why governments ban books and attack libraries. It’s because books spark revolution. Knowledge and imagination are our strongest weapons against hatred. Stories matter.
I end with a plea to parents and educators. Make your children read. Take them to libraries, start them off young. They will fall in love with books and it will change them forever. They will be smarter and more empathetic, with imaginations that make them see far beyond the darkness that this world is often shrouded in. Stories will teach them about good and evil, about perseverance and most importantly, about HOPE.