By Sara Karlovitch 

Everyone has a unique experience as human beings. Your personal experience and story is yours alone. You can find others who have gone through similar life events, but you can never find someone who has truly felt everything you’ve felt.

A common and impactful way to share your story, to create empathy for your situation and others like you is through writing. When you write, you are sharing a very personal part of yourself with the world. When something is published, the author’s innermost thoughts are now the world’s to read and analyze.

Reading the experiences of others creates empathy because we’re able to imagine what it’s like to be someone else. When we read, we experience the thoughts of others. You create a deep and personal bond with the writer, because you can now understand parts of them.

This isn’t just the musing of a book lover and columnist. The idea that reading, especially fiction, makes you a better person has been proven by science. For example, a recent study done by Italian researchers found that children who read the Harry Potter series and identify with the characters are more empathetic than their peers. The same study also found that reading the book can decrease one’s prejudices.  

That being said, it would make sense that the books taught in schools were written by people from varying races, genders, nationality, and sexual and gender orientations. However, in most schools, this fails to be the case. Books taught in schools across America are overwhelmingly written by straight white men. Of the 172 books listed on goodreads.com as Advanced Placement-approved books, 126 of them were written by men.

I noticed my own reading habits were not much better. Of the 46 books I read in 2016, 31 were written by men. Of the five book reviews I’ve written in college, three were by men. I realized reading like that could only lead to gaps in my own understanding of the world.

So, I made a promise to myself to change that. For every book I read by a man, I would read one by a woman, with a special emphasis on books written by minority women. It’s time for me to start filling the gaps in my knowledge.

The first book I picked up on this quest for literary enlightenment was Americanah by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu, a successful writer and fellow at Princeton University and Obinze, a successful banker. They were childhood sweethearts, growing up during the military regime of Nigeria. They split ways in adulthood, but consider rekindling old passions when Ifemelu moves back to Nigeria. Americanah is a beautifully told story of race, loss and resilience. If you’re looking for a light love story, this isn’t the book for you.

Adichie paints a different story of Africa, one that most westerners aren’t used to hearing. Americanah serves as the anti-Heart of Darkness. Readers are told the story of an intelligent, developed and modern Africa full of people who are perfectly able to help themselves. Americanah challenges the western world’s image of Africa.

Reading a book by an African woman gave me a new perspective on one of the most misunderstood regions of the world. I was introduced to a new way of thinking through the work of someone underrepresented in the literary sphere. I was able to develop a new perspective on Africa that differs from the one traditionally taught in the American public school system. I feel as if my worldview is a little more developed.

It’s time for a radical change in how we read. We as a society need to start exposing ourselves to new ideas and perspectives. More minority and female writers need to be taught in schools in order to teach empathy and understanding for people who are considered different. Not only does an educational opportunity need to take place but also a personal one. We as humans need to be more conscious about our media diversity. We should be consciously seeking out not only books by people different from us, but in all forms of media.

Reading makes us more well-rounded people. It exposes us to the lives of others. For every story we read, especially when they challenge our own views, our world get a little bit larger.  

Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo credit courtesy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Facebook.

Sara Karlovitch is a freshman journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at skarlovi@terpmail.umd.edu.

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