Posts filed under ‘Thinking’

3 Books that Changed the Way I Think

I read a lot.  Not an unbelievable amount or anything, but certainly more than the average bear, I think.  Like many people, though, most of what I pick up reinforces my beliefs.  Sure, plenty of books have a subtle impact on my way of thinking, but very few truly change what I believe.  This post is dedicated to those books, that are not necessarily my favorites, but that have changed me in a major way.

Revising History

I was a Navy brat, so growing up we bounced around between Rhode Island, California, and (northern) Virginia.  I got a good education, but suffice it to say my knowledge of the Civil War was spotty at best.  Why?  Californians don’t give a hoot about it.  Neither do Rhode Islanders, despite having been part of the country (and the winning side) at the time of the War between the States.  Northern Virginia, on the other hand, is obsessed.  Not with the Civil War exactly, but with distancing itself from the rest of Virginia, which is obsessed with the Civil War.  (You’ll have to forgive my pathetic generalizations, people.  Sorry!)  Thus, Northern VA comes down hard on the Confederates.  Robert E. Lee might be a hero to the rest of the state, but not in NOVA.  As far as I understood it, the Civil War was about slavery, and only slavery; anyone in the Confederacy was a bad man (or at least a misinformed one); and anyone who said otherwise must obviously be racist.

Then in 12th grade AP lit, we were assigned The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.  I devoured it, of course.  I devoured everything Mr. Welsh assigned.  And talk about throwing me for a loop.  My whole perception of the Civil War was turned on its head.  There were–amazingly–lots of good men in the Confederacy.  General Lee was pretty darn admirable.  Not that Shaara’s novel glorified the South or anything.  The Union was treated with just as much respect, and General Grant was as good a leader as Lee.

The point is, The Killer Angels made me question some firmly held beliefs and prejudices.  It, along with a couple other experiences, made me stop being an elitist brat who told people I was from “just outside DC” so as to separate myself from the rest of the state.  I started looking at southern pride with more of an open mind, and didn’t automatically assume that everyone with a Dixie Pride t-shirt was a racist prick.

This is not to say I’ve moved my allegiance to the South, or anything as drastic as that.  I’m not a Civil War or Lee enthusiast, and I certainly don’t wear Confederate flags on my t-shirts.  But since 12th grade, I approach the subject in a very different way, and I thank Mr. Welsh and Mr. Shaara for that.

Redefining Literature

I’m guessing that most people–the non-English majory types in the world–have the opposite experience as me.  At some point (I hope) you read a classic piece of literature that was actually accessible and interesting and you thought, “Hey, this isn’t so bad!”  The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, or Fahrenheit 451 might have made you dread English class just a little less.

Well I was an eager beaver in English, so I never had that experience.  I loved the vast majority of what was assigned to me.  When I was in my tween years, I wasn’t reading classics yet, but I never jumped into the YA bandwagon either.  I’m pretty sure I assumed that reading “adult books” (no, not that kind of adult book.  gross.) made me look smarter–the longer the better.  So that’s mostly what I read, much of which was forgettable (I adored Mary Higgins Clark, for example).

Some of my ed classes required that I read a couple of YA novels, but none of them stuck with me.  And they definitely didn’t make me suddenly think that YA was good literature.  But when I started teaching, I wanted to build up my classroom library, and I knew it was good practice to have an idea what was actually going into it, so I began reading some of the Young Adult novels that went onto my bookshelf.  They were, mostly, really quick reads.  Not unpleasant, but in no way earth shattering.  I was reading them because I thought I should, not because I really cared to.

And then I stumbled on An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.  A totally new experience.  Green’s characters are were so much more real than the standard YA drivel, and his plot was seriously engaging.  I grabbed up Looking for Alaska, devoured that (wasn’t sure if I liked it at first.  turns out it was awesome.), and waited until Paper Towns was released so I could gobble that up too.  Now I’m not embarrassed (okay, maybe I’m a tiny bit embarrassed, but only a tiny bit) to admit that John Green is among my favorite authors.  Another YA novelist entered the ranks too: Markus Zuzak.  So YA lit can be real literature.  Who knew?

Rethinking Thinking

This next one is supposed to change the way you think, so I feel like it’s a little bit of a cop-out to include it here, but I’m going to anyway.

I’m one of those people that excelled in a left-brain world.  School wasn’t easy per se, but only because I really pushed myself to a crazy level of perfectionism.  I could have skated through if I wanted to.  I knew what was expected of me, and did it.  I liked the affirmation.  I never considered myself artistic or creative.  I couldn’t draw something to save my life, and creative writing so terrified me I only took it for a semester in 11th grade (technically it was  semester class, but almost everyone took it for the whole year).  My left-brained way of life got me through college just fine, and into the world of teaching.

A couple years ago my dad recommended A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink.  By this point, I had accepted that I’m actually a little creative (though still definitely not artistically inclined), and was interested in the premise.  I read a good number of these self-help/guidance books, so Pink’s wasn’t too far off my standard path in the nonfiction world.  Long story short, I became obsessed with the ideas espoused in A Whole New Mind.  It’s one of the things that most made me question our educational system and my merit as a teacher.  I’m still not confident we do enough to encourage right-brain creative thinking, even if we claim to honor it in the classroom.  It’s certainly harder to evaluate, and thus, much easier to lower our standards for (another plague of education, in my opinion).  But if you read Pink’s book, you too will be convinced of its importance for America’s young people. This is a changing world we live in.

(All links to books are affiliate links.)

Please share, what books have most changed your thinking?  Did you ever do a complete 180 because of something you read?  Or do you constantly feel yourself more subtly influenced by the things you read?

July 12, 2010 at 1:52 pm 2 comments


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