When Fiction Sparks Recognition

The other day, I pulled out stacks and stacks of books I bought in my tween years. I know quite a few are still at my parents’ house and even more have been given away over the years. But these books that have been saved were like a treasure trove.

41LS4enKBZL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Even though now I have to set goals to read more fiction, as a kid fiction was my go-to genre and more specifically, I adored historical fiction. Books like Number the Stars, about a family who helps their Jewish neighbors escape Denmark and Back Home about a British girl who was sent to America during World War II brought these events to life. I reread Lyddie about a girl who works at the mills in Lowell, Massachusets. The girls in the stories were around my age and I could easily imagine a role in the narratives.

Reading these fictional books set the stage for later history classes. My imagination had already been sparked so learning the dates and historical accounts seemed easier.

Looking through the books that shaped me now, I see a theme: A young, scrappy, often white, girl overcoming challenges in her world. Beyond the young white girl, I didn’t have much in common with these heroines. And looking back, these stories often romanticized the details a little bit. There was some tension, yes. But the stories ended happily and with a neat conclusion.

Now I look for a bit more grit in my fiction. I don’t necessarily want or need that tidy conclusion. My characters still don’t represent me much. I look for protagonists who are people of color and often their lives bear little resemblance to my own.

But as a child, I think seeing myself a little bit was important. I connected with these girls because I could imagine myself in their (made-up) stories. As we fill our library with books for our own girls and I dream about the day when I can introduce them to my old favorites, Frank and I are intentional about including books from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. I love reading Peter’s Chair and A Pocket for Corduroy with Elle before bed.

But I’m also remembering that it’s developmentally appropriate to find ourselves in the books we read. That as Bea gets old enough to absorb these deeper chapter books, we’ll continue to mix in perspectives from people of color. But I also hope that by seeing herself in the story, a spark is ignited to find more and more stories, even if she’s not the heroine.

When you were young, how did you see yourself in the books you read? How has that changed as an adult?

A (1)This post is Day 3 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the A Literary Life. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Small Acts of Faith and Justice

Frank and I have been watching An Idiot Abroad on Netflix. Created by comedian Ricky Gervais, we follow his friend, Karl as he experiences the Seven Wonders of the World. The twist is that Karl is a homebody and is very critical of travel. I have laughed until I got teary; Frank has fallen asleep more often than not. But, it holds his attention enough that we keep coming back.

In the last episode we watched, Karl visits Petra in Jordan. As he’s preparing to go, he makes the observation that (and I paraphrase),

It’s better to live in a hole looking at a palace rather than living in the palace because the view is better.

Because of his comment, Karl spends a night in a cave with a view of the monastery. The next morning, as he is looking at the view, he comments that his point is proven – who would want to look at his cave when they could wake up looking at such impressive architecture.

I’ve been thinking about this twist in perspective. How if we just turn around, our view is so much different. It’s not that it takes a grand move or great effort – it just involves looking the other way.

How often do I focus on the cave I’m looking at – the injustice, all that is wrong with the world, my own small gripes – when I simply need to turn around and see the beautiful palace behind me – the ways in which people are making changes, the distance we’ve come, all my own privilege.

12009816_10156153220155046_7104302124610833731_nAt MOPS last week, we talked about race and reconciliation and what we can do as moms. Sometimes it feels as though I can’t do anything. I get so caught up in playdates and temper tantrums and nap times that I forget I can do something. It may not be big or immediately world changing, but it can change my focus, it can help build foundations for Bea’s and Elle’s worldviews, and it can change the world one person at a time. We talked about the simple act of talking with another mom at the park or of offering to help a struggling family with homework can help change the systemic problems in place. As Sarah Bessey says in her book, Out of Sorts,

Seemingly small acts of faith and justice are still acts of faith and justice.

I struggle with finding that balance between small acts of justice and slacktivism. How can my small acts change the world without simply forgetting about it after I reshare an article on Facebook?

I think it does start with a change in perspective – of looking at the monastery rather than the cave. Of seeing all that has been done before getting bogged down with all that still needs to be done. Of remembering the moms and small acts that were done before me – that the world is changed one person at a time, even though that seems so slow.

So this week, I’m focusing on shifting my perspective. I’m looking for small moments to seize and for ways to model the act of world changing, even if it does happen at the park.

How are you changing the world in small ways? And, would you rather live in a cave with a view of the palace or in a palace with a view of the cave?