Friday, October 2, 2015

Creating the possibility of harmonious acceptance in the Mideast/USA/Europe via literature and a powerful global conversation about coexistence








What I am positing, and encouraging others to posit, is the possibility that no one who is truly well read could continue a career as an extremist.


Although I expect there are examples that prove the contrary, and I realize those may be forthcoming in this discussion, I'm going to begin with that idea -- being well read repels extremist tendencies -- as the guiding assumption for the work I'll be doing here over the next year or forty. Some of us, I submit, are not reading enough. 


My operating principle, then, is that reading Nabokov, or Dickens, or Hemingway, or the Morrisons (Jim and Toni), or Shakespeare, or Cervantes, or Hemingway, or Vonnegut, or Homer, or Salinger, or Byatt, or Victor Hugo, or Anne Tyler, or Virginia Woolf, or Jorge Luis Borges, or any number of other people whose words have transformed my life, is not only likely to make you happier, but also likely to make you ... 


... wiser, more compassionate, and less likely to seek simple, violent solutions to complex problems. 


The more of these writers and people like them we read, the less violent and simple-minded we are likely to be.

Extremists are everywhere these days. We don't always know what to do about them. I'm not saying starting a discussion about books that are worth reading twice is the only response we should consider in dealing with them. But I am saying it's something we haven't yet done enough. Reading the Bible is important. Reading the Qur'an is important. Reading other books is, I suspect, important, too.

If I could wave a magic wand and get every human being in the Middle East, the United States, and Europe over the age of eighteen to enjoyably read and critique one book, it would be Hugo's LES MISERABLES. Not that it's perfect. Not that it could be. It's just the right conversation.