Can a book change your mind?

All the conflict and struggle going on in the world seems to me to signal that we need to change our thinking. Old, inherited forms do not work any more, but the new has not yet come to pass, and sometimes seems impossibly distant. We look to leaders to save us from this chaos, yet this too is part of the old order that must inevitably pass away. Where there was hierarchy, we need to create community; where there was division and strife, we need to find a dynamic, living harmony; where there was where there was war, we need to forge peace.

This is not accomplished through talk, through catchwords and slogans, but through the hard daily work of living together as human beings. We are distinct individuals, and yet we affect one another in innumerable ways, sometimes consciously, sometimes not; we also are affected by influences beyond our knowledge and control, and this can cause anxiety and fearful reactions. How do we enlarge our thinking to encompass all we are and can become, rather than just mindlessly repeating what has come down from the past? How do we find the courage to jump into something new, without the safety net of knowing exactly what will happen?

And what role does reading play in this journey? As should be clear to anyone who has been following this blog for a while, that’s exactly why books mean so much to me: they have the potential to help us change and grow into the future. In the pages of a book, we can explore different possibilities without the threat of outward conflict; we can encounter new ideas and test them against our judgment and experience; we can, in freedom, choose to change ourselves in order to integrate ourselves into a greater whole. As I reflected in my recent post on the novel East of Eden, this can then give us the strength to return to daily life and the baffling, often painful phenomena that confront us there.

Each person, each event, each situation is in fact a book that we need to learn how to read. For some, this activity is too frightening to bear, because it involves a loss of self; that’s why repressive societies, locked in fear and distrust, restrict and censor books and reading. The free exchange of ideas is a gift that we must not take for granted, and at this time perhaps more than ever, we need to use it to its fullest extent, finding the courage needed for true communication to take place.

Books can comfort, support, and console us, reinforcing what we already know, and that is also an important and necessary function, but applied to life will not help us move forward. We can’t any longer only relate to people who think and act as we do, or we will all die in isolation, as warring states of individual, enclosed selves. How do we break through to a higher reality? How do we learn a language beyond words? In this time of preparation for the coming of the inner light, which enters the world in the time of greatest darkness, these questions are on my mind, and I want to hear from you.

What books have helped to change your thinking? How has reading given you tools to transform the way you relate to the world?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

17 thoughts on “Can a book change your mind?

  1. This is a great post. You raise such interesting and important questions. I am currently putting together a post on my favorite books. Works that influenced me are certainly part of that list. In terms of understanding helping to understand the world, the world, the one book that comes to mind the most for me is Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker is coming out with another book in 2018 that looks like it may be just as profound.


  2. Books change the way I feel more often than they change the way I think. The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, when I read it in the 1980’s, changed the way I think about evangelicals (I used to think they were harmless).


    1. Ha, and then I went and used the words “think” and “feel” interchangeably! I guess my point, if I have one, is that fiction can change a person as much or even more profoundly than non-fiction.


      1. Someone commented on my post about nonfiction favorites that emotional impact was important to her. I think that’s a big reason why fiction can often have this profound effect – because we have an emotional connection to it. Thoughts without feelings remain somewhat abstract.


  3. The world would indeed be a better place if folks would simply carve out the time to read. The sad part these days (if you read the best sellers, etc.) you can see that most people aren’t reading thought provoking books to explore ideas and the world… they really just want someone famous to tell them they’re right and to reinforce their opinion. I fear that people’s minds would only be changed if they approached reading with the spirit in which you outline in your post. That’s what we need.


    1. Reading actually takes courage, to put aside your own thoughts and feelings for a time and enter into someone else’s. I think that’s why real reading doesn’t often happen in our fearful age.


    1. Thank you Lizza! It does encourage me to know there are other readers (and writers) out there fighting the good fight in our own quiet way. Fearful and ignorant responses will always spring up, but we can still hold to the truth, beauty and goodness that we have found in books.


  4. Do I think books can change your mind? Absolutely! Coming up with titles is challenging, though. I think, for me, it’s the collective reading I’ve done that has formed/influenced me and the way I think/feel.
    I’ve thought before that there are a few people I can think of that I’d like to experiment with. They are non-readers right now. I’d like to see how they change over the course of several years as readers. Of course, this is wishful thinking. 🙂


  5. Love this. I remember once I was reading Soldier’s Heart to a group of middle schoolers. It’s about a young boy fighting in the Revolutionary War. One student commented, “I always thought it would be cool to join the army and go fight, but reading this book makes me really think about how hard and how scary it would be.”


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