By putting our brains to work and pushing them to create cause and effect links, a story with a beginning, a middle and an end is viewed as the ultimate brain enrichment. But are the health benefits worth the moral dangers reading has such as neutralizing the brain’s capacity to think for its self and form innovative ideas?
While video games and explicit movies are highly considered as negative influence implementing unproductive behaviors, like violence and its likes, in the most vulnerable minds, novels are seen as elevating and culturally safe regardless of their content.
Most opinions limit the danger of books to people who are themselves dangerous by nature and are aspiring to control others around them. But the poisonous side of reading is not only related to the intentions of the reader. Its effects, in most cases, are more subconscious and manipulative, spread through subliminal stimuli.
The 19th century was one of the eras that raised suspicion towards novels. On one hand, it criticized the stories and the novels’ content, for using romanticized expressions invoking, as an example the ideologies that led Emma Bovary towards adultery. And on a more rudimentary basis, the act of reading itself, as it was assented tantamount to drugs, as stated in “The Sydney Morning Herald”’s 1871 article entitled “The novel reading disease”. Describing a phenomenon where people keep staring at pieces of paper engulfing them in a dream world away from reality, and as a consequence deadening the senses and loosing cognizance of one’s self.
This outrage was mainly the result of the apparition of a new literary vogue, in which the writing style was transformed so that the writers were artists depicted in the form of the Creator or God, by the means of narrative words that hold the power to give shaped life to the void and restore order upon the chaos. The influence that the writer holds over his reader was soon acknowledged by all authors, and was described as vampiric. Envision a vampire sucking the blood of a victim while compelling him to calmness and twisted dreams. Envision the same scene again, only this time with the storyteller taking life from the reader while embedding him with manipulative ideas corrupting his ipseity. An instance of this can be seen in Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, in which Dorian is highly influenced by the little yellow book given to him by Henry, pictured in the context as the artist/Creator. The twisted book served to intensify the obscene influence Henry had over the protagonist, and as Dorian was reading more and more, he became a mirrored image of the vices intended by Henry the writer. Thereupon is exposed one amongst many other foul encounters where the reader’s notion of self is lost in the writer’s selfish goal of self-expansion.
Another dangerous influential writing style consists of hiding gore behind aesthetically beautiful word usage, so much that the reader gets lost in the beauty of the scenery described and forgets the reality told behind it. Mirbeau’s “The torture garden” falls into this category, and it was constantly accused of de-sensitizing the public to violence and making us crave the fulfillment of our dread and dire as the killer is about to proceed with his crimes. In short, strengthening our darkest desires enough for us to crave that sense of satisfaction when our worst nightmares and predictions are rendered true.
In the same way, novels, not only tear the perception of one’s being but also remake that same notion accordingly. The fact that the Nigerian writer Ngozi Adichie, who despite living in a black Nigerian community, came to realize that her writings, unknowingly, were all axed on white British characters she read about as a kid, only reflects the power books hold in shaping a tender mind. It is the same power that made Dorian Gray, through the little yellow book, perceive the most atrocious sins as normal. Just as a person reading Samuel Richardson’s “Clarissa” is pushed to believe that rape is justifiable.
This doesn’t imply to stop reading, but rather to come in term with the fact that the true power of novels lies in the potential they have to destroy us. Presently, writers have become more aware of the responsibility that accompanies that kind of influence, so rather than to use novels to exert the power of the voice over the voiceless, more and more authors are choosing to give voice to the oppressed. And this is where we see the emergence of revolutionary, anti-racism, feminist and self-development books.
When it comes down to it, to read is to deliberately put ourselves at risk, that of allowing the intrusion of another being into our subconscious minds. It’s the submission to another force weaponized with language usage and the power of the narrative, which, used for good or bad, can either be enlightening and leading to a greater self-understanding, or contrarily, danger some and eliciting the awakening of our inner immorality. And so, by acknowledging books’ ability to destroy us, we can believe in their capacity to assemble our broken pieces together again, better than before.