10
Sep
2014
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How books can change the world

‘Stories are compasses and  architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of the world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice’ says Rebecca Solnit in her poetic memoir ‘The Farway Nearby’. ‘We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us to love or to hate, to see of the be blind’ she continues.

There is little doubt about the power of the stories. Brands tell stories, politicians tell stories, religions rely on stories, history itself is one big story. Stories are what make the world go round. But the best stories, I think, are always found in books. ‘A book is a heart that only lives in the chest of another’ continues Rebecca Solnit and it’s because of the intimacy of the reading act that I think we internalise more of those stories. When I immerse myself deeply into a book I feel the author is talking exclusively to me.

I often wondered what is it that I can do to change the world. It’s true that sometimes I contribute to charity but I never felt like I’m doing enough to alleviate some of the suffering that exists in the world. In my quest, I came about the realisation that I can also use stories to encourage people to act, just like a handful of other authors do.

How many of you know that Khaled Hosseini, the author of ‘The Kite Runner’ runs his own foundation who helps struggling people in Afghanistan, in particular women and children? He doesn’t just tell us beautiful heart breaking stories, he also gives us a call to action.

Or that – love him or hate him – Paulo Coelho uses money from his royalties to help underprivileged children in Brazil have better opportunities in life? If you’ve ever bought a Paulo Coelho book and tossed it claiming his writing was not convincing, then rest assured in the thought that a child might have a better life because of you.

Lydia Cacho, the fearless investigative journalist and author of ‘Slavery Inc.’ whom I’ve interviewed last year at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival also runs an eponymous foundation helping victims of sex trafficking.

These are only a few examples and I’m sure there are more, but just imagine a world in which every book comes with a call to action. We’re bombarded with bad news and charity messages from everywhere and we’ve almost become immune to it. But the intimacy of the reading act can change that. A story that you loved reading will inspire you to do more with it other than just carrying its memory around for a few days until a new book and new story comes to take its place.

Perhaps authors should think of more ways to convert that loving energy from their readers into something greater. To really make a change.

 

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