I've been reading a book over the past couple of days, which has a theme that I had pretty much sworn never to read about. Religion. Or to be more specific - blind religious faith involving glorification of one's religion, belief that people of other faiths are unbelievers and therefore less deserving of being alive, insensitive discussions of the 'my god' vs 'your god' and 'my faith' vs 'your faith' kind, and spreading ill-propaganda about other kinds of people. I didn't really know what the book was about before starting it, but in a strange way, I'm glad that I didn't, because I might not have dared read it otherwise.
This is pretty much how my reading experience went:
Session 1: Uff, all this religion mumbo-jumbo is alienating me!
Session 2: What a sick weirdo! Why am I even reading about it? Where are the parents when they are most needed?
Session 3: Really? You leave your child's religious education to someone else? Even if that someone is your best friend?
Session 4: Okay, I'm giving up.
Session 5: But this stuff happens. Haven't I read about worse things?
Session 6: Okay, let me rein in my prejudices and just try to understand this character.
Trust me, it was a battle. I didn't really realize that I had a topic that would make me squirm in my chair. And this is after having read about maniacal psychopaths, incestuous relationships, horrendous killings, etc. It helped that the book is just a confession by a character whose knowledge about religion was based on what he was taught by his aunt and what he heard from people having a societal leadership status. It also helped that this book isn't a propaganda book or a glorification of one way or the other. And the more I read it, the more I understood how someone came to possess that blind or twisted faith. I have to credit the author for setting the stage well.
But enough about that. All this introspecting basically made me wonder about the challenges or taboos in reading. My reading policy is usually that the more challenging the subject of a book to the reader, the better the reading experience. Comfort reads are great too and I need them as well. But I learn more from characters I hate, characters who do things I can never forgive, characters whose real-life counterparts literally agonize me. When I read books about such characters, I never find myself eventually agreeing or sympathizing with them, but I find that once I turn the last page, my whole understanding of the character (and people like them) has shifted a great deal. The picture no longer looks black or white to me, but has immense shades of gray.
But does it always work like that? For instance, does reading about a disturbed person, say, psychopath, proselytizers, propagandizers (yeah, I made up that word) or any kind of person you usually cannot relate to, make you any more comfortable with the idea of such a person? Do you become more tolerant of the person only in the book-world and not in real-life? Or maybe also from your living room couch but not actually in the presence of such a person? I don't really think that my personal boundaries have moved much in any direction, nor do I like these characters any more than I did before. I just know that I won't be so quick to judge or dismiss them because I feel I have seen a thread of their complex thoughts.
Do you have a topic that you find yourself very reluctant to read about? Have you tried to change that, and if yes, did it work?