During a lecture, my professor stated, “After reading a novel, I became a new person.”
I shared this in a group chat and went on with my day, unknowingly sparking a debate. They discussed whether this was possible: can you really become a new person after the experience of reading a novel, or does it only shift your perspective temporarily? If you live by this perspective, does that not change you into a new person? Or does the experience of reading a novel and having a shift in perspectives only add onto your current self, hence you are not a new person? If someone says his or her life has changed because of a certain novel, is that not the truth for them? What about the Bible? Oh nevermind, let’s not talk about that.
Conclusion: it is all subjective.
But really, this kind of a conclusion is just a lazy way to end the debate, and here is my take on this.
First, I define a “new person” in the sense that I am not the person I was before reading the novel. Specifically, a new person sees the world and themselves differently (i.e. a change in life perspective that is long-term and sustaining). With this definition, I say that people can definitely change into a new person after reading a novel. It doesn’t matter if this change is “good or bad”; a changed person is a new person.
The thing about changing as a person is that many parts of it are initially unseen and unnoticed. Sure, others will notice if you change your eating habits, start working out, wear different clothes, start taking too many drugs, etc., but only after a certain period of time. If you read a novel, the changes are mostly internal and can be instant.
The very existence of a novel is to open one’s mind to new knowledge, ideas, and sometimes, even a whole new world. New understanding and perspectives lead to changes inside your mind and consequently, the actions you decide to take thereafter. After awhile, these actions define your character, along with an already changed mindset.
Self-help books, characters with conflicts that are deeply similar to your own, sentences that describes all the things you feel but cannot explain with your own words – these are just some of the ways a novel can begin to change you and your world. Novels help us understand that we are not alone and that others are fighting similar battles. They teach us how to take care of others, ourselves, and what these relationships can offer to our lives. It brings insight into a way of looking at something that you didn’t think of before.
All of that is internal. You feel the changes happening to you. You know you’re becoming a different person, providing the novel is one that touches you greatly. And if you feel you have changed, then you have. And if even one person has changed, then the original statement is most definitely possible: a person can become a new person after reading a novel.
A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons