So. The question is: Which classic book has changed your view on life, social mores, political views or religion?
Now. I don't know if there's a book that's actually changed any of those things (hmm... maybe my view on life, I guess) but I can think of a couple that I know for a fact shaped my way of thinking about things and generally made me into a better human being than I might have been if I hadn't read them. I can't confirm that, of course, but I think that's so.
So, first of all, To Kill A Mockingbird. I genuinely can't think of a book where I agree more with basically everything it's trying to teach, and I don't know if that's because I believed in these things before I read it and they reinforced them, or if I just learnt them from the book. Either way, I don't think it really matters, because these are all lessons I associate with To Kill A Mockingbird now:
- You can't ever understand another person's situation fully unless you are them, so judging people based on the limited things you know about them is foolish and bad and wrong.
- True courage is having the courage of your convictions- knowing that you can't win, but doing whatever you think is right for the sake of its rightness.
- AND (this is the really big one that I really do think To Kill A Mockingbird imprinted in me) People are absolutely individuals and should NEVER be judged on things that are incidental to who they actually are- things like race, and gender, and sexual orientation (ok, that's separate from TKAM) and should really only be judged on themselves. The main part I remember from Atticus's courtroom speech is where he says (I'm paraphrasing) 'yeah, some negroes lie, and some negroes steal, and some are not to be trusted with women- but the same is true of some white men. So judging someone as guilty because of their race is fucking ridiculous and you shouldn't stand for it.' And nowadays I refuse to join in conversations like 'oh, aren't men useless' and 'girls just do this' and so on because treating people as anything but individuals is bullshit.
There are actually about ten million more things I've learnt from To Kill A Mockingbird, but those are the three most important, I think. The other book that's had an almost unconscious impact on me, especially politically, is The Grapes of Wrath. This is something I didn't even realise until we readalonged it in October last year, and I noticed a LOT of the views Steinbeck expresses in it (or, shoves down the readers' throats, if you like, RIGHT fellow readalongers?) are views that so strongly reflect my own political feelings.
- Letting food rot while people go hungry is a disgrace, and it's shameful and it should never happen. I understand the economics behind it perfectly, but that doesn't stop it from being the wrongest of all the wrong things that have ever been wrong because FUCK economics when people are dying. Seriously.
- And just, more generally, capitalism is SO gross and wrong and probably not the best way to live because it just benefits the people who already have all the money and the power and that is a very small proportion of the people and hey, that's not cool. I've only recently come to realise just how anti-capitalism I am, and whilst a lot of that has to do with, you know, not having any money, it ALSO seems to have its roots in The Grapes of Wrath- or maybe that's just the place where I first learnt that capitalism can totally be criticised.
Having said all that about The Grapes of Wrath, I NOW totally appreciate when people say that it's all preachy and agenda-pushing BUT I first read it when I was about 15 or 16 (I'd never even heard anyone criticise capitalism before! And, let's face it, I didn't even know what capitalism was) so the sliiightly heavy handed nature of it went straight over my head, and I was left with a view of social justice that I haven't ever lost. Well played, Steinbeck. Well played indeed.