Thursday, April 28, 2011

The human side of scary

Holocaust Remembrance Day is this Sunday. The display of books on the subject that a couple of us created at work stands in stark contrast with the pastels of the spring and Mother's Day books on our seasonal display wall, and obviously, it's not a "fun" holiday. But I remember that when I was in elementary school, Holocaust books were something I wanted to read, and the same seems to be true for other quiet kids. By and large, these are not the kids who enjoy scary stories, but books about one of the scariest parts of human history have a strange appeal. Why?

I'm sure there are lots of reasons, among them pride that someone trusts them to be able to handle these accounts. But to me, the biggest reason is that Holocaust narratives, both fictional and nonfictional, tend to be very human stories. As violent as the Holocaust was, and as honest as many books are about that, they don't highlight violence the way a shoot-'em-up movie would. No one pretends that there's anything cool about it. Instead, books highlight what it's like to be someone, often a young someone, witnessing and experiencing the effects of violence. And just as many real people did, characters do what they can to help each other survive.

Much of the same can be said about stories of slavery and other more-than-unfortunate parts of history. When you're ready to contemplate the things that are really wrong with the world, reading is a safe way to do so.

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