Nonfiction November 2023 continues with Week 4: Worldview Shapers, which I am proud to host!
Here’s your prompt:
One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book or books have impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Is there one book that made you rethink everything? Do you think there is a book that should be required reading for everyone?
Worldviews, changed and shaped
I’ve been excited to get another opportunity to host after my first round last year. Fitting with our theme of continuing evolution, I’ve adjusted my prompt a bit. I received some criticism from a Nonfiction November participant in my Worldview Changers prompt:
Another topic I struggled with. My issue is that I feel like a worldview doesn’t just “change”, it gets shaped. And it’s a long process. I haven’t had a struck-by-lightning, large-scale worldview changer in book form, although I suppose that’s possible.
This critique motivated me to rename my prompt from Worldview Changers to Worldview Shapers. Of course, one book will almost never change your entire worldview. Only the flimsiest worldview would turn fully around after one book. But maybe it’s my background in—and the dozens of stories I’ve heard from—the conservative Christian church that tells me that there are times when a single book can rock your world (and, yes, your flimsy worldview). And if that has happened to you, I’ve got to know what book that was.
One book everyone should read
The blogger went on, however, surprising me with how much my prompt upset them.
Now about this: “Do you think there is one book that everyone needs to read for a better understanding of the world we live in?”
No, no, a thousand times no. I’m bothered by these kind of questions, because there’s something so reductive in the idea that everyone will be affected by something in the same way as everyone else, or that everyone needs to develop their understanding similarly, or that we all should be gearing towards the same viewpoint. I don’t like to presume that others need learning on the same topics that I do. Lived experience is an incredible and valuable thing, and it’s why we should all read and explore as widely as we can, and I think that includes asking other people about their worldviews or seeing out various perspectives, rather than assuming everyone could benefit from the same thing you did.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but this kind of simplification is why we end up bombarded with lists like 100 books everyone should, or worst, must, read and then they’re all just Jane Austen and The Great Gatsby, with some implied guilt thrown in if you don’t like or want to read them. No thank ya!
As I hide my clickbait-titled post 30 Books Every Atheist Should Read guiltily behind my back, I feel the need to defend my question. I actually thought of this question after seeing an earlier blog post from this same blogger who wrote of a book, “just know I think it should be required reading for absolutely everyone.” So when I saw this reaction to my prompt, I was a bit taken aback.
I didn’t come here just to complain about this Nonfiction November 2022 blog post (but it has been in my mind for a year). I find that it is an interesting jumping-off point for my own worldview shapers. That blogger wrote, “there’s something so reductive in the idea that everyone will be affected by something in the same way as everyone else, or that everyone needs to develop their understanding similarly, or that we all should be gearing towards the same viewpoint. I don’t like to presume that others need learning on the same topics that I do.”
Your viewpoint is not valid
But is that true? If something is earth-shattering enough, shouldn’t we all be affected by it? Shouldn’t we all be developing an understanding of things, of histories, that matter—through books or whichever means we learn best? When the books you read are about topics like humanity’s greatest atrocities—like genocides, for example—are there multiple valid viewpoints?
No, there are not.
This brings me to the worldview shapers that I want to highlight this week: books on Palestine.
These books were such an obvious choice for me in this prompt, because they are actively shaping my worldview right now. (I’m starting with Palestine: A Socialist Introduction.) They demonstrate that something does not have to change your entire worldview in order to shape it. I have known of the struggle for Palestinian liberation for a while but knew virtually nothing about it. When I started to absorb a little bit more about it by virtue of being in the progressive space, I didn’t know enough to defend Palestine or explain why Israel is a racist state.
I knew that it was, though, when I attended the all-things-social-justice Netroots Nation conference in Chicago last July, when activists protested the “progressive except for Palestine” US Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky speaking during a keynote.
Folks were chanting “Free Palestine” and “Israel is a racist state” while covering the camera with the Palestinian flag.
It was beyond tense, and my anxiety was overwhelming just being in the room. When it was clear that the keynote would not be able to continue, my colleagues and I, like many in attendance, gave up and left. We were greeted by a protest in the hallway.
Without the tension of blatant disobedience, the energy in the hall was electric.
I knew that I did not want to be on the opposing side of this.
While it would be a lot easier, though, it is not enough—as a progressive white woman in the US—to “know in your gut” that Israel is a racist state. That’s where these books come in.
Fighting bombs with books
When there is a genocide happening across the world from me, it’s hard to know what exactly I can do to help stop it. Of course, I can contact my representatives (like John Fetterman, who I helped elect but who doesn’t represent me) and share things to my Instagram stories, but I can always, always read. Reading doesn’t feel at all like protesting in the streets, but it’s just as important. It’s solemn, and it’s hard, and it can be slow at times. It’s not energizing like that room in Chicago was.
Does that mean I think everyone needs to read these exact books? No. I do think that everyone should educate themselves by their preferred method, whether it be reading, watching webinars, or, yes, finding legitimate sources through Instagram or TikTok. (See the list below to get started.)
At the risk of sounding cliche, the opposition wants you to not know your history. They want you to be able to think Palestinians are oppressors, that Israel are stewards of the land they’re bombing, that we need two states, that there is a war. There is no war. There are not two sides.
That’s why knowledge is power. That’s why we fight bombs with books. This is the issue that I need to educate myself on. What’s yours?
A non-sponsored, non-affiliate list of sources for a Free Palestine:
- (free eBooks) Haymarket Books’ Free eBooks for a Free Palestine
- (books) Haymarket Books’ Free Palestine Reading List
- (webinars) Haymarket Books’ YouTube webinar playlist: Until Liberation: A Series for Palestine
- (poems, articles, speeches, etc) Solidarity with Palestine – A Radical Black Feminist Mandate: A Reading List
- (website) Jewish Voice for Peace
- (website) Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement
- (Instagram) AJ+ reporting on the ground
- (Instagram) IMEU reporting
- (Instagram) Kashifpov debunking disinformation
- (Instagram) Propaganda vs Truth, also debunking disinformation
- (TikTok) Iamsbeih for culture and history
- (Twitter) Stop Zionist Hate