Read Dangerously: The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times

Read Dangerously book5+++stars. A MUST READ.

Azar Nafisi has written an incredible book that is composed of five chapters about critical authors. These chapters are written as letters to her deceased father who was jailed in Iran for standing up for his beliefs. Nafisi and her father shared a love of literature and freedom of expression and art.

The first chapter is about authors Rushdie, Plato and Bradbury. Last night on August 13, 2022 after I had completed the first chapter, the news was announced that Salman Rushdie was stabbed and attacked onstage during a panel interview. He is currently in the hospital and may lose one eye and an arm and his liver have been damaged.

In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering Rushdie’s execution because he felt Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, was blasphemous.

In addition to the evening news about Rushdie, there was conflicting news about whether Donald Trump would have turned over highly classified information that he took to his Mar-Lago residence if he had “just been asked” or if he was asked and received a subpoena several days in advance.

The newscasters also indicated that there is concern/talk about whether the US is headed to a civil war in the future. There was discussion about the “election deniers” who are making progress in current election campaigns in several states. Election deniers are those who feel Trump won the election but it was stolen from him.

Yesterday, Ricky Walter Shiffer, an armed man, tried to enter the Cincinnati FBI office and was killed after a standoff with police.

Book banning at schools, libraries and bookstores has exploded across the country… reading Nafisi’s book was incredibly timely and thought provoking.

Read Dangerously shares parallels between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States. Nafisi has lived in both countries and transparently shares historical and current context of both countries, particularly on topics of exclusion (race, gender, religion, politics, etc).

The quotes at the beginning and the end of the book highlight the role and intersectionality that writers and readers play in changing the world.

“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.” Edwidge Danticat

“Readers are born free and they ought to remain free.” Vladimir Nabokov

The authors that are highlighted and discussed in each letter (chapter) to her father are:

  1. Rushdie, Plato, Bradbury
  2. Hurston, Morrison
  3. Grossman, Ackerman, Khoury
  4. Atwood
  5. Baldwin, Coates

Nafisi shares that the world knows a lot about America but America doesn’t know much about the world. Americans wear our ignorance of the world casually and good naturedly. Author James Baldwin stated that indifference makes one blind.

America pays little attention to writers and we avoid reading dangerously. Reading fosters a mindset that questions and doubts. Fiction arouses our curiosity and our imaginations.

Reading dangerously teaches us how to deal with those viewed as enemies. Democracy depends on engagement with our adversaries.

Censorship is dangerous to the well-being of societies. When we stop reading, we pave the way for book banning. Different opinions and perspectives are critical for understanding and empathy.

I highly, highly recommend Reading Dangerously. It links writers and readers to the universality of the human experience.