Read to Understand Yourself and Others

When we read, we not only become aware of others and their differences but also their similarities to ourselves.



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Have you ever heard someone talk about “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” in a conversation about reading or watching something? Professionals use this phrase to discuss how the public may interpret books, movies, and shows. Librarians often use this concept to decide if materials suit and benefit their users. These notions have influenced how professionals think about library services and materials. Every part of the community should find a representation of who they are, who they might be, and who they want to be. Everyone should be able to experience what it would be like to lead a life different from theirs — the development of empathy and understanding of human experience. When we read, we not only become aware of others and their differences but also their similarities.


Mirrors reflect us. Reading a book that shows a life like a reader’s, acts as an affirmation or potentially positive representation of that reader. Representations and differences are found in these mirrors, ranging from loving horses to cultural heritage or even some of the challenges of growing up. I loved reading Peter Pan by J. M Barrie and seeing parts of me reflected in the Lost Boys. Playing in the dirt, imagining great adventures, and having characters to relate to made me feel seen and normal. Books allow readers to find parts of themselves in the text. Hence, kids, teens, and adults better understand their experiences.

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Windows see into the lives of others. Into the realities of what someone may be going through, into an imaginary world where a character must make hard choices, and into how other people think. By reading a book about a person of another ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or a person in a different country, the reader can see what it means to be like those characters and be a part of that story.

For example, The True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie illustrates what it would be like to grow up and live on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Readers see what life is like for those characters and develop empathy for those with similar experiences. Seeing the way other people live. By looking into the lives of people different from ourselves, we learn to hate less because our worldview gets a little bit bigger.

Sliding Glass Doors

Like windows, you can see other lives and stories through a sliding glass door; however, the door allows for the opportunity to step through and become a part of those stories. Reading stories about people from different walks of life can help change a person’s development. A person may read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and decide to become a detective. Or read Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson and help a friend through grief or process their suffering. Stories change readers. Sliding glass doors in books provides insight for readers to gain the experience needed to make changes for themselves.