The Power of Art

To roll off of what I posted a couple of days ago, I wanted to discuss why I believe literature is not just important but also vital to our world. I taught eighth grade gifted language arts and literature for several years, and each year I would greet parents at Open House. I always enjoyed Open House because I enjoy performing, and talking in front of a crowd is like a performance. In addition to telling the parents about myself and my background (and always saying that I wrote romances that were not appropriate for eighth graders and that if anyone had a problem with that to please, please, please start a protest because I could use the publicity—never happened, but my students always offered to hold a book burning for me), I would give the parents my passionate and sincere beliefs about literature—all kinds of literature.


Technology progresses at a much faster rate than society. I love technology. I believe we can’t have enough engineers, physicists, and scientists in general in this world (My husband holds a PhD in robotics—yeah, I have a soft spot for the brainiacs). Robot Guy is an optimist; he believes technology can solve what ails the world. Unfortunately, technology moves too fast—too fast for the average person to assimilate it and understand it (by understand I mean use it with comfort—For example, we all drive cars now, but how many of us could actually put a car together? And you should read people’s reactions to automobiles when they first arrived. Hilarious. That and the use of electricity. The showy Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 helped usher in our dependence on electricity. Once people saw the spectacle, electricity became less frightening. Anyway…). So how does the average citizen become accustomed to new ideas and new advances?


Through Art. (Yes, with a capital A)


Art of all sorts exposes us and makes us comfortable with new ideas. We explore our fears through this safe venue and learn from it, so when reality confronts us, it isn’t as frightening. Ideas are often met with fear. Take robots for example. Stories and novels have explored all aspects of robotics in a way that a lay person can understand. From killer robots to helpful robots (Dr. Who to Isaac Asimov). My husband can tell you that there isn’t a robot that doesn’t have a huge red kill switch beside it (we’re not talking Roomba here), and the kill switch isn’t to kill the human operator. In any case, we’ve become so accustomed to the idea of robots that we hardly notice them in our lives. I don’t know about you, but Google’s self-driving car is something I want (although Robot Guy says there is still a long way to go. Robot vision is a particularly nasty problem.) And yes, I feel safer knowing a computer does most of the flying on an airplane.


But it isn’t just technological ideas that Art helps with. Cultural change happens through the examination of ideas in Art. Between Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, The Invisible Man, To Kill A Mockingbird, and more recently The Help, we’ve seen racism through various lenses. Without realizing it, the ideas become a part of us and how we respond to those ideas shapes us (I don’t want to debate the validity of the arguments represented in such works—that would be a whole book by itself. What I’m saying is the ideas are there and we’re exposed to them, which affects us, however greatly or minutely). The rapid switch (rapid being relative to the time from when it actually came into our collective consciousness as opposed to the history of mankind) to the acceptance of same sex couples (which the majority of us now do) I believe was helped along by TV shows, books, and movies that featured LGBT characters. Once we saw they are simply like the rest of us, acceptance followed. (And if you’re not in this group and want to leave some sort of screed as a comment, just don’t. This is my page. Make your own page for your own screed.)


Whatever we read touches us, changes us, teaches us. We can agree with, disagree with, argue against, stand for, or dismiss those ideas, but in whatever way, those ideas have affected us. This is why books can be dangerous. This is why governments use propaganda. This is why dictators fear freethinking. This is why education is so important. This is why a great swath of people can be convinced to vote against their own self-interest. This is why debate is so important.


Right. I’ve gone on long enough. If you’re a former student, you’ve heard all this before.



P.S. I’ve focused mostly books, but I truly believe all forms of Art has this power. I just know books best.


Books I’m reading now:

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin

7 Quick Thoughts About Books

1. Do you have a favorite author? Terrific. A new release from them, or re-reading a special book, can cause a celebration. But what do you do while you’re waiting? How about checking out that author’s web page and seeing if they mention any authors that inspired them? Or pull one of their books from your shelf and see if they mention any authors in their acknowledgments or dedications. You never know. You might find another favorite author and have a larger pool of books to keep you occupied.
2. Decide what kind of reader you are. Do you keep books pristine as they taught you in elementary school or do you like to have a conversation with your books and mark them up with questions, comments, and annotations? If you like to have books pristine for your collection, consider buying two copies. If you like to make notes, you might want to consider buying the book for your e-reader, so you can take notes on the device. Personally, I buy books to enjoy. I own a few autographed copies of favorites that I don’t touch, but for the most part, you can tell my books have been loved. I like a book that shows its age, that has had a full life.
3. Don’t be shy about speaking about the books you love. Tell your friends. Leave reviews. Write the author. I can tell you that nothing makes my day like receiving a note, a tweet, a message, an email from someone who had a fun time reading one of my books.
4. You don’t have to finish a book. I give you permission, right here, right now, to put aside a book you aren’t enjoying. There are so many books out there; why would you want to waste your time on something you aren’t enjoying? A caveat: I am not speaking about a book you must read for a class or an assignment. If you’re not enjoying one of those, you still have to suck it up and read it. Sorry. But if you’re reading for pleasure, you don’t have to finish. Really, you don’t. Find something you will enjoy. The world won’t end if you don’t finish a book. Honestly. I’ve not finished a lot of books. Time continued forward and societies didn’t collapse (at least not from not reading). Okay, if you absolutely must finish everything you pick up (and I understand; I was once like you), learn to skim. Jump ahead by several chapters. Most of the time you can keep up.
5. Don’t let anyone tell you what to read. You don’t have to apologize for anything you enjoy reading. Or justify it. You can read what you want. When I taught, I often had parents ask me to recommend books for their children. I told them to let the kids pick. It didn’t matter if they chose classics, genre, or even comic books. All reading is good for you. (I hate making absolute statements. There is some reading material that is awful—for society, for humanity, etc.—but I don’t even want to acknowledge them…even though I just have.)
6. Taking time to read is NOT a waste of time. Escape is good for the soul, and if the dishes don’t get done for an hour, who gives a flying fig? (That’s right. I don’t cuss much. It doesn’t offend me, but I can’t pull it off comfortably. On the other hand, when you do hear me cuss, then you know I really mean it.)
7. And yes, you can judge people when they say they never read. I do all the time, and not just because I’m an author. I don’t understand people who don’t read. Or say they don’t have time to read. I can’t imagine a good life without books. I might have some acquaintances who don’t read (and some family members, but I’m stuck with those), but they’ll never reach the friend stage. Call me shallow, but, yes, reading means that much to me. My youngest is intellectually handicapped, and for years my greatest tragedy was that she hated reading. I’m happy to say now that that has changed. She reads a lot now—oh, at a very low level, but she’s reading. And writing too. She writes fan fic. And reading and writing has helped her language skills in ways that therapy and special ed classes never did. So, yes, I’m willing to judge people who don’t read.

Books are brilliant, dangerous, enlightening, educational, entertaining, elucidating, and a relatively inexpensive big bang for your buck. There’s a reason dictators get rid of intellectuals first when they take over. Books contain ideas, and ideas create greatness and wonder and curiosity and freedom. So read a book.


Books I’m reading now:
Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin

Book stories

I just read a blog at B&N about lines that book lovers get that annoy them. It reminded me of a story that happened to me that I’m still flabbergasted about, so I thought I’d share.

Many years ago, I read Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. Loved it. In fact I liked it so much I thought it would be a great gift for my brother-in-law who enjoyed the middle ages and even did some creative anachronism stuff. For his birthday I tracked down a hardcover first edition of the book and sent it to him. He read it and enjoyed it.

The next time I saw him, he proudly told me that he had wanted to share the book with his fourteen-year old daughter, so he had painstakingly went through and whited out the lines he thought were inappropriate.

Now it was his book, and I totally believe in loving books to death, i.e. breaking the spines, re-reading until pages fall out, writing in the margins, etc., but censorship, not so much. I also understand wanting to protect a young lady from certain content, but if that’s the case, she was too young to read the book.

The incident has remained with me as something I  shake my head at.

Do you have any book horror stories?


Books I’m reading now:

Actually I’m revising my own work right now, a straight fantasy, and enjoying the heck out of it.