A couple of weeks ago, one of the WHYA girls said that the purpose of books is not to change the world. Some of us disagreed, and it was the start of a great discussion.
Of course, not every book is going to have a resounding effect on the world, and there’s nothing wrong with a simply entertaining read. It’s also hard to measure the impact a book will have in the long run. Only time will tell. But if you look back, it’s amazing how literature has shaped history.
The reason Notre Dame is still standing today is because Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame to save the cathedral from being demolished. Hugo not only changed the way people saw Notre Dame, but also how they viewed Gothic architecture in general. At the time, Gothic art was considered ugly and offensive, and Hugo made them see the beauty in it.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe showed people the horrors of slavery and compelled them to act. It had such an impact that legend says when Abraham Lincoln met Stowe, he said, “So this is the little lady who started this great war.”
The resonance of books today is harder to see. But certainly the Harry Potter series and the Twilight Saga have changed Young Adult fiction. YA has its own section in book stores now. How many teens are reading now who weren’t reading before? How many people have been inspired to write who weren’t writing before?
Think about all the jobs that have come out of this surge of teen literature. In an interview, JK Rowling said, “One of the things I have been proudest of is going down to Leavesden [Studios] and looking at all these people with all these jobs — hundreds and hundreds of people — and occasionally I’ve looked and I’ve thought ‘Oh my god, these people have jobs because I had an idea on a train once.’”
Not every book is going to make a huge change, but I love living in a world where they can. So what books do you think have changed the world? More importantly, what books have changed your world?