This post started off as a conversation with my brother, who loves to subject himself all things that make me go “WHY ARE YOU WATCHING/READING THAT?” but he is also one of the most open minded person you’ll ever meet- so a little something has to be said about that.
I was always that person who shut herself out of reading or watching something that made me feel slightly uncomfortable. I preferred to watch what some might call “fluff” or put better as “feel good”. My argument was that one faces enough issues and dramas in their personal life, so why should I subject myself to more misery on my leisure time. When I watched Never Let Me Go, I was shaken to say the least – it was too emotional, too heartbreaking for me. When I watched Ghost World, I didn’t like it – the truth is that it was too damn real for my taste- even though I wouldn’t admit it to anyone.
But as I have gotten older, books and movies have become more than a time out, but rather something for opening up my mind. It takes me to places and scenarios I’ll never face, and gave me stream of thoughts that I’d have never come up with on my own. When you read books or watch movies that talk about things that make you feel uncomfortable or downright sick, you are opening yourself up to the realities of the world. Even in works with fantasy themes, there will always be portrayal of human nature as an undercurrent and slowly but surely, once the initial shock wears off, it will leave your heart feeling bigger and your mind more open.
I am not saying that opening yourself up to thoughts that might trouble you can directly make you a better person. But what it can do, so slowly you may not even notice, is make you accept people for their little faults and whims. You realize that there are way worse things that people around you could be and that you don’t have the right to judge them as you come with your own fissures and faults as well. You realize how the world isnt’ really made of rights and wrongs when it comes to somethings and all there is your rights and wrongs, but you don’t have the authority to impose those on others around you.
With every shock to your system through these works, you develop a shock-absorber of sorts and develop a way to deal and see the world in a new light- a new world in which things aren’t as black and white as your earlier naive self might have thought. These works will teach you how things like grief, acceptance, faith, sexuality and more are much more complicated than they seem and there are so many shades of grey to all of them (but do NOT subject yourself to 50 Shades of Grey, I wouldn’t wish it even on an enemy ).
I think the first book that I read that made me feel this way was Memoirs of Geisha – I read it because I was enchanted by the thought of Geishas. The drama of their makeup, the beauty of their kimono, but I didn’t even know what they really were. As I read the book, I was surprised at every turn. I was disgusted at times, about how women were considered, the endless cycle of women trapping other women. But I was glad I read the book, it cleared my mind of so many preconceived notions I had of the world, and I was starting to appreciate what I had and mourn for those who didnt.
A movie that broke my heart made it to the list of one of my all time favorites – Atonement. I don’t think I can ever find the words to truly say how it left me feeling. I was reeling, at the sadness for Cecilia and Robbie, how cruel Briony was, how Lola covered it all up. I can never find the right words to discuss how sad it made me feel and was scared by how real the story was, how it could have happened to any of us, how much a little girl’s angry lie could toppled two people’s entire life.
The next on my list is Lolita by Vladamir Nobokov. I confess, I haven’t been in the mind space to finish the book. But as far as I’ve read, all I can say: scandalous and disturbing, the premise of this book makes one question oneself. “How could I be reading about such things and feel fascinated by the workings of such a perverse mind?” And yet, no amount of introspection can stop one from reading this book about the nymphet Lolita, the twisted and ever unreliable workings of H.H.’s perverse mind and the unrelentingly mesmerizing words of Vladimir Nabokov.
Here is where I’d cut in and say, sometimes you really do need to be in the right space of mind to read books or watch movies like these and that is why I have put off reading Lolita, but I will go back to it again and finish what I started. However perverse it may be, it is well written and offers insight into a truly twisted mind.
And the book that started all of this, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara– I went through this book so quickly that I couldn’t even believe it myself. I read around 600 pages of this book in 3 days and just have 120 pages to go. I fell so in love with this book that I couldn’t help but put off finishing it. Without revealing what it is all about – it talks about everything that you might not want to think about – drugs, sexual orientation and confusion, abuse – both physical and mental, grief, psychotic breakdowns, abandonment and much much more. It talks about the messy confused life of four friends and the only way I can summarize about it is how the Observer wrote about the book –
“A devastating read that will leave your heart, like the Grinch’s, a few sizes larger”.
After thing long winded ramble, all I have to say is to take that leap and subject yourself to uncomfortableness. It is the only way you will truly open yourself up to the world and to see it in all the shades that it is painted in – black, white and grey and all the other shades of the spectrum.
What is your thought on reading books that make you feel uncomfortable and stretch your mind beyond its normal capability for acceptance? Leave a comment and let me know in the comments!