Growing up, reading was my form of rebellion. If I was told not to read something, I read it. Knowledge is power, right? (I think I had a t-shirt with that printed on it.) I wasn’t content with being told something was wrong, I needed to know what it was and then understand why it was wrong.
Reading was my escape and my means to a well-rounded education, both academically and socially. It’s one of the biggest reasons reading is such an important part of my life – it shaped who I am, gave me the means to think for myself, and taught me how to look at things from all angles. Reading exposed me to different ideas and made me think about things I may not have otherwise considered.
I learned to read like a rebel, and I think it’s an incredibly valuable skill, especially in today’s world. Today, I thought I’d share some of the things you can do to read like a rebel, too.
DO: Read Books That Aren’t Mainstream. I feel like many people in today’s society tend to pick up only the books that are getting a lot of buzz (think Gone Girl). They read books either so they can say they’ve read them or so that they can talk about them with their friends. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I do it too, in conjunction with other reasons for reading. But I also value being able to share an amazing book that no one else has read. Or discuss an obscure idea or writing style. I think Haruki Murakami explains it best:
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. – Haruki Murakami
DON’T: Equate Popularity with Truth. As a former history major, I learned the importance of understanding sources. And that includes nonfiction books. Admittedly, now that I can no longer rely on the opinions of my professors, who have a lot more knowledge and experience, it’s difficult to suss out the good nonfiction from the bad. Just because a book is popular doesn’t mean it’s good, or a good book for you. Just because everyone seems to be talking about that one biography doesn’t make it fact.
DO: Read Banned Books. Read the books you aren’t supposed to. This is how I started. If a book was banned – when I was young, Harry Potter – I wanted to know why. What is in there that I shouldn’t be reading? (In the case of HP, it was witchcraft – I went to Catholic school.) Don’t accept any barriers on knowledge. In my opinion, those who ban books underestimate the intelligence of readers (and yes, there are readers who can’t handle certain books). But you’re smart enough to figure it out on your own. Or read Harry Potter and understand that it’s fictional. Seek out banned books. Expose yourself to knowledge that someone else, at some point in time, deemed too dangerous.
If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all—except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty. – John F. Kennedy
DON’T: Believe Everything You Read. This applies to everything from newspaper articles to fiction. Know your sources. It’s easy to understand that the magic in Harry Potter isn’t real (as much as we wish it were), but it might not be so obvious that a journalist didn’t totally follow up on their sources, or that one statistic mentioned in a contemporary novel was completely made up by the author. You’re getting information filtered through someone else, and whether that means mistakes, intentional falsehoods, or simply fiction, not everything is a reliable source. Just like an argument, there are multiple sides to every story. It’s up to you to take everything you read with a grain of salt, understand how to research that information on your own, and find the most reliable source you can to discover what is closest to the truth.
DO: Read Things You Don’t Agree With. For me, this is so important. I recently read somewhere that one of the mark of an intelligent person is that they can argue all sides of an argument. You are able to understand the other side, entertain their logic, and not necessarily agree with it. If I’m being honest, this is one of the abilities I’ve gained from reading that I value most. Many people I know read something they don’t like and dismiss it. I can disagree with it, dislike it, but still see the value in it, and explore it intellectually. Or (as in the case of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named’s Twitter page) I can disagree with it, dislike it, and then be able to more effectively argue about why I hate him so much. Either one works.
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle
DON’T: Be Afraid to Disagree. This is something that took me a long time to understand, but it’s so important. You don’t have to like the same books as everyone else. You don’t have to read the books that other people like. And you don’t have to be afraid to share your opinions. If everyone liked the same things, or believed the same things, the world would be a pretty boring place. Your opinion has a place, it is valuable, and it is worth being shared. BUT, understand that your opinion is no more important than any one else’s, learn to be able to have a constructive argument without anger, and realize that not everyone is willing to do the same.
DO: Read About Things That Spark Your Curiosity. Want to know why exactly Putin is so bad? I do. That’s why I picked up two books on him in the past year (I still have to read them, but I’ll get to it). I’ve read books about the Manson murders, the psychology behind social media, current and past world leaders, feminism, and physics. And I have gained something from every one of those books. If you’re curious, pick up a book. Educate yourself. Reading isn’t solely for entertainment outside of school. It’s up to you to teach yourself about the things your teachers never did. And don’t sell yourself short -sure, it might take more time and effort, but you can understand those concepts in astrophysics. If I can read Stephen Hawking, you can, too. Understand the world around you, and make up your own mind.
In short: Read what you want. Be smart about it. And use reading as a way to find out more about the world around you.