I brought up Jen Campbell’s Be A Good Human Tag a few weeks ago and today I’m going to share a few books that I felt have helped me learn to be a slightly better person. These are certainly not the only books I’ve learned valuable lessons from, but they’re just a few of the ones that have elicited positive change in me/my thoughts.
Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay shows that it’s not easy being a feminist, and that’s OK. There will be contradictions…or things that seem like contradictions but aren’t. It’s OK to like pink. It’s OK that you aren’t an outdoors woman. It’s OK to be friends with other women rather than rivals. It’s OK to wear makeup. It’s OK to wear baggy clothes. It’s OK to fart. It’s OK to be competitive. It’s OK if you’re not the best at everything. You’re human. And you just want to be treated like all the other humans (You know, the ones with the perks). You don’t have to be perfect just because you’re a feminist. You don’t have to be someone else’s feminist ideal. But feminism does need to be intersectional to really work.
Little Knife by Leigh Bardugo was so charming with big messages wrapped into one well-told story. And, because I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, I’m just going to say: I didn’t even realise I was falling into a pothole built and managed by the patriarchy until I read this story.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath felt sooo…familiar to me. I have never suffered from depression (I don’t think…would I necessarily know? I guess I might not…But I don’t think I have). However, Esther’s feelings so perfectly reflect so many feelings I’ve had these past few years during and after university. Esther’s relatable-ness shows, in similar (if much less dramatic!) ways as The Yellow Wallpaper how smooth the decent into depression can be. I already assumed that people with depression were not just wallowing in self pity, but watching it unfold—and knowing the author’s intimate knowledge of the subject—shows how naturally and quickly it can happen to anyone even if they seemingly have their life together. Depression is not logical. And depression can happen to anyone.
Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith makes you realise how much we still have to learn from our elderly and how much will be missed when they’re gone. We don’t have much time to take what we can from them (we’ll never have all we need from them). Harry Leslie Smith, 92 year old British Great Depression survivor and WW2 veteran, takes you through the sad stories he’s lived through including (but not limited to) watching his loved ones die off one by one over his long lifetime before, during and after WW2, how the government has or hasn’t helped at these many different times, how people’s intolerance leads them to hateful places. He talks about Britain’s political climate as well as giving titbits on other countries he’s lived in like Canada and the USA (among others). He talks about the dismal backwards steps we are making today. It is a very sobering read. But he also makes some brilliant, solid, actionable suggestions to make things better again. He made me realise how much pain a person can take and still remain optimistic. And he made me really want to be a politically aware person who gets involved to make the change she wants to see in the world.
Herland by Charlotte Perkins-Gilman showed me a whole new way that our system could be run! Some ideas seem obvious but many struck me like ‘Oh…Yeah! I suppose that could work! (Or it is, at the very least, an intriguing thought-exercise)’. Perkins-Gilman’s approach is light and full of grace with no hint of blame. It is understanding and it is welcoming. I may not have agreed with everything, but I felt excited by the wealth of new ideas she presented for running a society. With so much positivity, I was shown how things could be run for the betterment of all citizens if we would only choose to think a little more holistically/cooperatively and a little less individualistically/competitively.
Some Honourable Mentions
Books that maybe didn’t teach me anything terribly new, but that I think might be new ideas for some and/or are really great reminders.
The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman is an interesting look primarily for its religious commentary. There are ideas about appreciating someone despite their different beliefs. Thoughts on whether or not to try to ‘save’ those you care about from their own choices. Understanding that the other person probably genuinely thinks they are doing what’s best for you. By all means, enter (healthy) discussions about differing beliefs and stand by what you believe/think/know to be true, but ultimately, it’s not your job to think for anyone else and make decisions for them. Even if you care about them…because you care about them.
Wonder by RJ Palacio was a brilliant reminder that kindness is a choice and people who are different from you are still human. It seems pretty clear, but it isn’t always so black and white. I love that Palacio explores both sides of the coin: the person with the difference and the people around that person. It’s not always easy. And it’s not always simply about acceptance and not being a bully. And there are so many perspectives in here (other than just “the bully” and “the victim”). There are burdens, there is unintended awkwardness. There is a lot still to learn. All people deserve respect regardless of what differences they were born with or develop. We aren’t always aware when we’re not “choosing kind” but we can work on being better at it.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, with similar ideas to Wonder can be a metaphor for a developed physical or mental difference (a degenerative disease or the result of some accident) as well as for any kind of difference at all (homosexuality, transexuality, depression, extreme anxiety, etc). It was interesting to watch how Gregor Samsa’s family’s attitude changed towards him (especially as it was realised his condition was not temporary). Their tolerance slipped away (if it was ever truly there at all) and shows how weak the links of their love and respect were when he is no longer able to support them. How they have used him as a crutch and are unwilling to return the favour (and, even when helping him temporarily, it is a burden of duty). I hope to always remember to really appreciate each person for who they are and not what they can do for me because that is not love and it cannot last.
Apology by Plato reaffirmed for me that even thousands of years ago in ancient Greek times, knowledge (and those who seek it) were being quashed for political reasons or because of petty reasons like jealousy, aversion to change, fear of losing power over the ignorant masses and many other reasons besides.As new things happen and times change, our preconceptions will have to be reassessed. And when our preconceived notions are confronted and found dubious, we should try to be happy the lapse in logic was found (and so can be corrected) rather than angrily trying to hide it. It showed me that reason doesn’t always win and that sometimes we lose a brilliant mind at the claws of a regressive society. Being open-minded is a constant struggle, not a constant state of being. I want to always be reassessing to build on my strengths and strengthen my weaknesses. I want to be a little more like Socrates.
P.S. It’s worth noting that Plato’s Apology is non-fiction, not myth. I know we don’t always remember to separate actual Ancient Greek politics from Ancient Greek Mythology.
In part one I’d asked for books that you think have made you a better person and received some good ones (one or two of which ended up on my TBR). I’m going to ask again for more recommendations: