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Books as doorways to other worlds

Books have always been an important part of my life. My innate obsession with books has blossomed into a deep appreciation for the power that literature has to connect us with people, places and ourselves.

Here are just four of the many ways that books can impact our lives.

1) Building relationships with others.

Throughout my childhood, my mom and I read together almost every night. Reading with me was one of my mom’s many ways of expressing her love.

In elementary school, I discovered the “American Girl” series, which fueled my fascination with American history. My favorite American Girl was Samantha, whose stories took place in Victorian-era New York. My mom was also interested in Victorian history, and we time-traveled together as we looked at photos of Victorian architecture, decorated my room in Victorian style and even had tea parties like Samantha enjoyed.

Reading can strengthen bonds between people, whether between a parent and a child, friends or intimate partners.

2) Experiencing other cultures.

My dad introduced me to the vast world of Latin American literature.

Immersing myself in Latin American history by reading inspired me to travel throughout the region and learn Spanish. Even if one’s exposure to a different culture is primarily through books, one can still feel a profound connection with it, illustrating literature’s ability to connect us to far-off places.

3) Remembering our interconnection with other living beings.

My sister, an animal rights activist, inspired me to try vegetarianism. Initially, I failed several times. Then in college, I took a psychology course on children’s literature. We reread many of the classic children’s books that anthropomorphized animals, including “Charlotte’s Web” and “Make Way for Ducklings.” This reexposure to animals portrayed as sentient beings with complex lives and emotions played a major role in my becoming vegetarian.

4) Getting to know ourselves better.

One of my favorite genres is memoir.

Memoirists make a choice to be vulnerable, to expose the deepest parts of themselves. In sharing their stories, they encourage us to dig deep inside ourselves as well.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from reading memoirs is that we’re not alone. Someone, somewhere is experiencing struggles similar to our own, allowing us to make better sense of the issues we’re dealing with. This has been the case for me as I’ve read memoirs by authors who have had mental health issues and authors who have immigrant parents and are attempting to navigate their hyphenated identities.

The memoirs I have read have given me the courage to delve into uncharted territories of myself and to share parts of my own journey with others.

If we allow them to, books have the ability to change us and to reveal people, places and even parts of ourselves we may not have otherwise discovered. What we do with these new discoveries has the potential to leave a lasting impact on our own evolution and the evolution of all living beings.

Pavita Singh is the executive director of Girls Health Ed, a freelance writer and editor and author of “To All the Magic in Me.” She lives in New York City.

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