Books and stories are so important to me. I believe they really do have the power to change the world because they have the power to change us as readers.
So when I came across the book Read Dangerously: The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times by Azar Nafisi, I was giddy with delight. Finally, a book that encapsulated my passion for the catalyst quality of books.
The introduction got me hyped. Nafisi started off by talking about the importance of literature and the role writers have played in revolutions throughout history all over the world. Writers are always seen as dangerous because they reveal the hidden strings of how the world operates.
Letters to Her Father
The book is made up of letters written by the author to her father. These letters detail her thoughts about what is happening in America and how those events connect to books considered dangerous by different societies. I am a huge fan of snail mail and writing letters to people. I think writing letters is such an intimate form of communication; it really allows us to express ourselves and listen to what another person has to say. But one limitation with a collection like this is that you often only see one person’s side. Which is the case in Read Dangerously. We don’t get to see Nafisi’s father react and respond to her letters. His perspective would have been so interesting to see.
And while I am a fan of letter-writing, and also of the epistolary format, I felt like the more formal, academic tone Nafisi used in her letters took away from the experience. I wouldn’t want to read a personal letter so steeped in references and research. Because of these elements, the usual intimacy of letter-writing was missing for me.
I don’t want to suggest that these aren’t actually the letters she wrote to her father. But personally? I felt Nafisi could have done away with the epistolary format and made this book a straight analysis, without what felt to me like a missed attempt at creating intimacy.
I do appreciate the range of books Nafisi writes about. She chose to highlight writers from lots of different places and disciplines. Of course, I geeked out that she included works by James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston.
What I liked most about Read Dangerously was Nafisi’s acknowledgment that reading books written by people different from her is how she learns to challenge herself. Through the reading of these books, she was able to learn about different perspectives, which allowed her to grow in her understanding of others. She was also able to connect the stories of others to her own experiences.
For me, one of the most interesting books she talked about was one on Satanism. I will admit that I knew very little about Satanism. With this book, and with many of the other books she wrote about, Nafisi did not necessarily apply the labels of good or bad, wrong or right. Rather, she explored how they challenge the dominant narrative. This is the core of reading dangerously.
What Reading Dangerously Means to Me
Similarly to Nafisi, reading dangerously, to me, is challenging my own narrative and the narratives that surround me. I hate when people don’t like a story because they can’t see themselves in it. To read dangerously is to seek out those stories that are different from your own, especially stories from the most marginalized. Often that means getting out of your own comfort zone to engage with those stories. It means working a little harder to find those stories that aren’t all over “mainstream” Tik Tok or Instagram or the many bestseller lists.
The oppressive forces in power are trying now more than ever to silence those “dangerous narratives” while also promoting (and securing book deals for) their own dangerous narratives.
As LeVar Burton said on his appearance on The View, “Read the books they’re banning. That’s where the good stuff is.”
Let’s read dangerously.