Armchair BEA: Beyond the Borders

Design by Amber of Shelf Notes

It’s time to step outside your comfort zone, outside your borders, or outside of your own country or culture. Tell us about the books that transported you to a different world, taught you about a different culture, and/or helped you step into the shoes of someone different from you. What impacted you the most about this book? What books would you recommend to others who are ready or not ready to step over the line? In essence, let’s start the conversation about diversity and keep it going!

To me, reading diversely means being brought into the experiences of characters who are different from me, whether that difference is one of race, culture, or even socioeconomic status. Today, I’ve chosen two books which challenged me to understand and empathize with characters in situations vastly different than the ones I’ve encountered in my own life.

My senior year in my public high school in Maryland, we read Native Son by Richard Wright. Set in inner city Chicago in the 1930’s, this shocking novel deals with what it means to be poor, black, and hopeless in America. My high school was unusually diverse in both race and economic status, so this made for a tough, eye-opening read which sparked intense, honest, and healthy discussion with my classmates. Reading and discussing Native Son is probably the first memory I have of loving a book which also made me feel completely uncomfortable.

Last year I read Swimming to Elba by Silvia Avallone, which is similar to Native Son in many ways, but without the race issues. Avallone addresses a very real side of Italy we don’t hear about in the travel guides: her young characters fight to escape poverty, abuse, and the pressure of sex and drugs. They struggle with concerns and disillusionment toward their futures. Italy holds a special place in my heart, as I mention in my review, which made it especially difficult to read about a socioeconomic experience there which I was otherwise oblivious to.

These books open my mind and stretched me as a reader. So, I’m giving away a paperback copy of one of these two books (winner’s choice) to one reader in any country on The Book Depository‘s list. Contest will close a week from today.