The challenge of reading widely

When a piece of writing has an attitude and throws a different opinion my way, it makes me consider my stance on the world. It’s true for both fiction and non-fiction.

I assume it’s the same for everyone, but how far do you go, how far should you go, to find such writing?

Reading enlightening fiction

My reading list is littered with non-British stories that describe an unfamiliar culture.

Recently, I read Naguib Mahov’s Palace Walk. The story is set during the First World War in Cairo, Egypt. The characters deal with a set of circumstances that are as likely to happen to me as being beamed to the moon in a Star Trek style transporter. Voluntary housebound women don’t fit into that familiar ideal of a ‘strong independent woman’. To them, me, going to work, paying my own rent, living in sin would be just as alien.

It’s an excellent read. Naguib Mahov’s characters are rich, lively and make for an entertaining tale.

I came across the book because I asked my Egyptian friend what Egyptian-centric books he’d recommend.

Not everyone treats reading as an adventure. My friend Maple, who gave me The Hunger Games, reads for escapism. Her shelf is filled with books that are safe, reassuring and can be relied upon not to become too uncomfortable. I don’t believe this is bad, or inferior. Reading is a form of magic that fills many roles within a person’s life. But I can’t help feeling she’s missing out.

Why do you pick the stories you do?

Reading critical non-fiction

I’ve started reading a book of Noam Chomsky’s articles that was leant to me by one of my colleagues after a discussion about inspirational writers. They’re calculated critiques of the media and governments. I understand little of what I read. My knowledge of American politics is what I’ve gleamed listening on conversations between friends and family. My understanding of Barack Obama doesn’t go much past he has a cute dog (I assume the same dog still exists right?). And I’m sure George Bush is a fool (that’s what the media says right?), but the only fact that comes to mind is that he likes to paint.

Not great wisdom have I.

(I can feel the Grandfather despairing.)

But I like that the articles are challenges. They point out the blindness caused by a limited perspective. It’s difficult to verify what I read. I don’t know enough to form my own defined opinions, but from such articles hopefully I will become better at not instinctively accepting the perspective given to me.

It’s telling that this was the book recommended by this particular colleague. He’s a rather sceptical, witty man.

Where do you find writing that inspires and challenges you?