Reese Ryan writes our February guest editorial, talking about what the musical Rent taught her about the importance of reading outside of her comfort zone.
Because I’m a huge procrastinator, I'm writing this article at one in the morning after having watched the televised "live" version of the Broadway play Rent. It was the perfect lead-in to writing this article.
I went to see the Broadway play in New York with a friend I've known since we were preteens. I'd selected the play because it sounded interesting and the tickets weren't as pricey as some of the other shows. I had no idea what the show was really about. And being raised in an ultra-conservative family, had I been fully informed about the show's controversial topics, I would've opted for a show that was lighter in theme.
I'm so glad that I didn't.
Seeing Rent was my first real exposure to the LGBTQ community. It was a masterful story with brilliant, compelling characters and songs that were moving, thought-provoking, and irreverent. The show didn't make me uncomfortable. Instead, I felt enlightened.
Jonathan Larson's brilliant stage play opened my mind. He took a topic that many people would find troubling and put it front and center. He created fascinating characters with whom we could sympathize. Got us invested in them and then permitted us to feel their love, frustration, and pain. And then gave us a window into just how the AIDS epidemic was impacting their young lives.
Like the rest of the crowd, I jumped to my feet applauding wildly at the conclusion of the show. More importantly, my perspective was forever changed by the play. Being exposed to characters whose experience was starkly different from mine widened my horizons and deepened my understanding and sense of compassion. It made me keenly aware of just how much we have in common. Regardless of what we look like, whom we love, where we live or what we do for a living.
I felt the romantic love between Angel and Tom Collins as much as between Roger and Mimi. And the familial love shared by this ragtag group of artists who'd formed their own makeshift family. It was an eye-opening experience that had a real-life impact on my view of the world.
I have since been fascinated by how instructive storytelling can be about the world around us. Particularly when we are adventurous enough to explore works of fiction outside of our comfort zone which provide a glimpse into unfamiliar worlds. If we choose, we can gain insight into the experiences of others, widen our view of the world, discover what makes us more alike than different and build upon those commonalities in a way that makes us more compassionate.
I've written before about The Benefits of Being an Avid Fiction Reader. According to a University of Toronto study, one of those benefits is that reading fiction sharpens our capacity for compassion and empathy. And a Washington Post article revealed that people who read more fiction tend to be more empathetic and understanding of others. Traits increasingly undervalued in modern society. Until we ourselves are in need of such empathy and compassion.
Romance readers tend to be a voracious bunch, devouring stacks of books in our never-to-be-depleted TBR lists. We are taken with handsome heroes and strong heroines who overcome their personal flaws and various obstacles to find love. But don't forget the life-changing shift in perspective that can be gained by "walking" in another man or woman's shoes for two or three-hundred pages, if we are open to it.
If we only read that which is comfortable and familiar, we limit our view of the world. Recently I read Sent as the Viking’s Bride by Michelle Styles, which I highly-recommend. Before reading that book, I was sure I didn’t like Viking romances. I was wrong. It’s a wonderful story with compelling characters, fascinating history, and modern parallels.
The heroine leaves her homeland to escape the threat of violence. She risks her life on a harrowing sea voyage with her young sister in tow in search of a better life and proves herself to be an asset in her new community. The heroine’s story engenders compassion for those who are forced to flee their home countries in search of a new life. The ailments with which her young sister suffers deepen our compassion for those with disabilities who are often ostracized or misunderstood.
Being given a glimpse into unfamiliar societies or situations through a work of fiction can expand our horizons and help us strengthen our capacity for compassion.
Read widely, read other perspectives, and feel the love.
Reese Ryan's latest book, His Until Midnight, is out now. You can find more information about Reese's writing on Facebook and Instagram, and at ReeseRyan.com.
Have you ever read a book or watched a movie or play which broadened your horizons or changed your perspective? Tell us in the comments or join the discussion on our Social Media using the hashtag #FeelTheLove