Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Reuters

A balanced reading diet

We’ve all heard the expression, “you are what you eat.” The idea behind it is that what we put into our bodies affects the health of our bodies. We’ll be healthier if we eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. But I think that can be extended to our reading diet as well. What we put into our minds by reading affects how we think. Thus, “you are what you read,” far more than we may realize. If we’re wise, we’ll cultivate a balanced reading diet.

This photo still life shows a beautifully-staged breakfast of figs, yogurt with granola, and tea, next to a magazine open to an article by Zadie Smith titled “New Books.”
Three feasts in one: visual, gustatory, and literary! (photo still life by Juliette Tang, via Food52)

How we understand the world

Our teachers and families may have taught us that balanced nutrition keeps us healthy. Whether we actually eat a balanced diet or not, we’ve probably heard of the concept. But, a balanced reading diet? What would that even look like?

For this discussion, I won’t debate whether listening counts as “reading.” Audiobooks and podcasts? Ebooks and online materials? Print books and publications? Different delivery mechanisms, but they all deliver ideas. Same goes for fiction and nonfiction. They simply are different ways to transmit ideas.

Verbal communication evolved for survival reasons. Humans navigate our world better when we understand it (or think we do). Because of our experiences and influences, we accept some ideas, and reject others as unhelpful. The ideas we keep and use guide us when something new happens. They determine how we understand the world.

What’s in your reading diet?

For me, a balanced reading diet consists of some nonfiction and some fiction. Some of my reading/listening focuses on contemporary issues and news. Other reading/listening is more timeless. And a lot of it, because of the culture in which I live, reflects a white-dominant perspective. I have to make a special effort to find other perspectives.

Portraits of two Black 18th-century writers, Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley from editions of their books.
Portrait engravings of Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley from 18th-century editions of their books. (British Library)

That’s why I think it’s important to talk about this during Black History Month. Because for a white person like me, it’s all too easy to get caught in a dominant-group-exclusive perspective. It’s way too easy to ignore other’s experiences.

But white people who cocoon themselves in a “white-perspective-only” bubble render themselves clueless and unfit to influence community affairs. Ignorance leads to dangerous blind spots. Demographic shifts place white people in a majority group that’s dwindling. The privilege many of us take for granted today—and defend with savagery, in some cases—cannot last.

Why do we need a balanced reading diet?

My sister spotlighted some pitfalls of a whites-only perspective in her post last week. Her “tale of two histories” gave a vivid glimpse of why separate is not equal. Nor is it balanced. Nor respectful. And certainly not wise.

People from minority groups have no choice but to pay attention to others ideas, needs, and priorities. If white people don’t develop a wider understanding of the world, we’ll have a far harder transition when we become part of a “majority minority” nation.

Long before that happens, we need to wise up and start rebalancing our inputs. Granted, a minority of white people—and seemingly a majority of one major political party—have embraced a leader linked to white supremacy. They have committed themselves to the “white bubble.” That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. Or should.

A young man sits on the floor between two bookshelves. He has a book open on his upraised knees and several other books open on the floor beside him.
(uncredited photo via BuddyMantra)

A balanced reading diet prepares us for the future

If we want to prepare ourselves to help create and participate in a more equitable world, we have work to do. We need to learn about white privilege, if that’s a new concept. For those who’ve lived in the “white bubble,” we have to practice before we can perceive the privilege that surrounds us. We also need a willingness to understand how our privilege actually hurts all of us—yes, even those who enjoy the privilege.

We need to ground ourselves in non-white experiences, to keep our thinking lives balanced. Learn about microaggressions, and why their relentless barrage is so destructive. One of my teaching classes included a book titled We Can’t Teach What we Don’t Know. We can’t teach, and we can’t live, in more adaptive ways without broader understanding.

Why seek a broader understanding? We owe it to ourselves, if we value the ideals of a resilient democracy. We’re at a crossroads. Unless we work with other Americans to build a national identity that embraces diversity, we’ll limp into the future diminished and wounded by internal strife.

Recipe for a balanced reading diet

If you want to build a balanced reading diet, I’d recommend several things, but first a guiding principle: just as a balanced diet incorporates a variety of foods, a variety of information sources build a balanced reading diet.

Logos for two great podcasts from NPR, “Code Switch,” and “Throughline.”
Two great podcasts from NPR, Code Switch focuses on culture and current events, while Throughline offers insights from lesser-known history. (Logos via NPR podcast listings)

News and commentary

Study up on antiracism, especially if you’re not sure about claims that white people enjoy a privileged status, or why that might be a problem. Authors who are persons of color can speak from a place of authority on this topic. Podcasts I’d particularly recommend: Code Switch and Throughline, both from NPR.

If you’re lucky enough to have a local newspaper—or at least a broadcast station that covers local news—listen to it or read and support it. Local media keep local governments and other centers of power more accountable.

Likewise, get your national and international news from a variety of well-regarded sources. Include at least one national newspaper, and a news source from a foreign country, such as Reuters or Al Jazeera. Don’t rely on just one source for everything! And make sure you can distinguish straight news from opinion.

This image provides a montage of book covers for works by Black authors, giving a glimpse of the recommendations list in the article.
TED speakers offered their recommendations for 62 great books by Black authors. (TED Ideas)

Don’t neglect fiction

Both nonfiction and fiction offer new windows on the world. Fiction is arguably one of our earliest forms of meaning-making, so don’t dismiss it as useless and frivolous. It is primal. (And, serious novels aside, sometimes we urgently need frivolity in our lives. Fiction has you covered there, too!)

Seek out authors from a variety of backgrounds. As influential novels of the past have shown, sometimes the best way to explore an idea is to wrap it in a riveting story.

That’s my recipe. What do you think? Do you have a balanced reading diet? Please comment below! What’s on your “must-read” list?

This quote-image features the silhouette of a young boy and the William Godwin quote, “He that loves reading has everything within his reach.”
A classic quote from Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin. (GladReaders)

IMAGE SOURCES:

Many thanks to CASSIEM and Food52, for the photo still life by Juliette Tang, as well as an enjoyable article and several more photos by Tang. I appreciate the British Library for an interesting article on some of its holdings by 18th-century Black authors, and the illustration of the portrait engravings of Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley. I’m grateful to BuddyMantra for the uncredited photo of the young man in the library, from Pallavi Dutta’s article about “30 Things Only Booklovers Can Relate To.” Thanks also to NPR podcasts, Code Switch, and Throughline, for their logos, and to TED’s “Ideas” for the illustration and the article on “62 Great Books by Black Authors Recommended by TED Speakers.” And finally, I also want to thank Glad Readers for the Quote-image featuring the quote from Mary Shelleys father, William Godwin.

For the Arts

Day Seven: Gratitude for the Arts

I suppose it is not terribly surprising that an artist, writer, and career art teacher would be grateful for something that has been such a vibrant force throughout her life, but I realized that I’ve heard very little being said, recently, about the value of the arts in our lives.

I think we’re missing something important, by such an omission. There’s a quote from C. S. Lewis that I’ve seen popping up with fair frequency: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art . . . . It has no survival value; rather, it is one of those things that give value to survival.” For me, this quote encapsulates the problem I see.

I believe it is being circulated because people think it affirms the value of art. But to my mind, it understates and diminishes the value, not only of art, but also of friendship and philosophy.

I may decide I need to get into the particulars of this argument someday, but here’s the short version:

Lewis’s unrecognized devaluation of of friendship, philosophy, and art comes from a narrowed definition of these concepts:

  • The preposterous notion that any man could be an island.
  • The idea that philosophy is only conceived by the most abstract (or famous) of introspective thinkers.
  • An elitist assumption that true art is only created by those operating as high-level professionals in creative fields.

Unfortunately, this understanding is far too widely shared, to the detriment of us all. I think this is part of the reason why the arts have been under siege for years, in this country.

Even as we repeatedly discover that a vibrant arts community is as important a business asset to a city or region as excellent public schools, it remains a dual lesson that painfully few in KansasMissouri (where cuts have impacted all aspects of education, and arts often are cut first), or our national government seem to have mastered.
Certainly the importance–and the powerful positive results–of teaching the arts in schools has been amply documented.

But the power of the arts to continue connecting people with their true selves doesn’t stop when they graduate. The arts are a lifelong enricher of souls, giving depth to the lives of all who are willing to embrace them.

Yet the arts continue to be considered as “frills,” unnecessary, or “a side issue,” by all too many people. If art is understood only to be a grace-note in life, it can safely be ignored (and need not be publicly funded). I think Winston Churchill had a better grasp of the issue.

We live in a bitterly divided society, here in the US. All too often, we seem exclusively focused on the ugly, the evil, and the terrifying. Granted, the tenor of politics, the upward spiral of natural disaster occurrences, and the number of mass shootingsterror incidents, and other violence we’ve seen in the daily headlines recently seem designed to drag us down. In such an environment, it’s easier for nationalist and authoritarian movements to gain a footing.

I think the rise in nationalism and authoritarianism in recent decades is largely to blame for the trivialization of the arts (noted above as “part of the reason”) that has come to characterize many funding battles in the public sector.

Authoritarians have a natural distrust of free-thinkers (who are everywhere in the arts), of empirical research, which is less amenable to ideology than other approaches (hence the all-too-common contemporary negative views of science), and of critical thinking in general (because it too readily pokes holes in authoritarian dogma).

The arts lift us beyond our immediate struggles. They can show us other points of view, new ways of thinking and seeing. They give us a rich context for meaning-making and help us build more complete understandings.

The arts, in their best expressions, build bridges of understanding rather than walls of division. They heal us and grant us a wider vision, so we can see–and therefore seek–a better way forward. That’s the most important reason of all, why I give thanks for the arts.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. So is the design for the Eve L. Ewing quote, for which I gratefully acknowledge the BBCWikipedia, and Reuters, via the BBC, which provided the vintage photos. If for some reason you’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. Many thanks to AZ Quotes for the C.S. Lewis quote image; to The Artful Parent, for the Ananda Coomaraswamy quote image; to The Keep Forever Box, for the Sydney Gurewitz Clemens quote; to Jen Bissou’s Pinterest page for the Churchill quote; and to Brainy Quote, for both the Picasso and Degas quote images. I am deeply appreciative to all.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén