In the wake of recent movements to ban books across the country, I found myself coming back to the question over and over again: Why does reading matter? Book bans are not new, and there have been movements to control what people read for years. Yet books are enormously important for society, especially for our children, and they should be widely read and encouraged.
I have been drawn to books since I could hold one. My mom has several pictures of me as a toddler with a book open, drawn to its pages rather than the world around me. As I grew up, my love of reading exploded. When I attended elementary school, I remember being given more advanced books to read because I had surpassed the reading level of my peers (and this made me feel just a smidge like Matilda, who would be one of my favorite childhood heroines later on). I devoured every book I could get my hands on. I incessantly begged my mom to take me to the library, and I always let it ruin my whole day when she couldn’t take me. But in the end, I always found myself walking between its shelves again, happy and content.
I remember when I entered third grade, I had set myself a goal to read a book every single day. Let me be clear that my mother has always supported my love of reading, but I know she found this year to be particularly challenging. She could barely pry my nose from the books I was reading, I would ignore chores and other family time all in the effort to ‘finish my book.’ I was obsessed. I slowed down a little and learned the importance of balance, but my love of reading has never wavered.
As someone who was very shy growing up and often picked on in school (more so in middle school), books were my solace and refuge. I dove into them fervently, ignoring the seams of reality that spilled across the outer edges of the pages. I read everything I could get my hands on, from Judy Blume to Roald Dahl to Phillip Pullman and C.S. Lewis. My mom ordered me my first set of Lord of the Rings from the scholastic bookfair when I was in the fourth grade, and I still have that set to this day. I collected the Dear America book series, the Royal Diaries, and book series like Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables. I visited my school library and public library every chance I got, scouring the shelves for new stories, new worlds to jump into.
For me, reading has always been an extension of my self. This isn’t an exaggeration. It’s simple truth. As an adult, with a full-time job and a family, I am a complete cranky mess if I don’t get in a solid hour of reading every day. I absorb the words and let them fill me up with life. I’ve walked alongside hundreds of characters in my life, through hundreds of worlds, and I have loved them immensely.
My love of reading has spilled into my love of writing. As much as I enjoy reading, I also love creating new worlds and characters. Stories live rent free in my head, all the time, one way or another. But the joy and pleasure I’ve derived from reading in my life is transformative. Reading has the capability to lift me out of sadness. And it also does the opposite, sometimes it fills me with pure tragedy and grief. But this is grief I need to experience. If you’ve ever cried into the pages of a book, you understand.
Reading matters. Reading matters so much. I don’t read just to escape or wander through other worlds. I read to learn. Sometimes the books I read teach me about a creature I never knew much about (such as The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery), or about the world around me (The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben). But books transport me, too. I have not had many opportunities to travel outside of my country, and some books let me have the experience of other cultures and other cities (Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal, Kafka on The Shore by Haruki Murakami, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel).
And books have let me love. Books have shown me how love really is the most important feeling in the entire world, and as long as we have love, we have enough. And I can’t say it enough, but love is love, and people shouldn’t have to fight for the right to love whoever they chose. Books bring perspective and knowledge, but they also give a voice to people, and it is important to recognize that we are all human, but we are all different. And the differences are what makes us all beautiful. Diverse books draw us closer together because they show us that no matter where we are or who we are, we can all share the same emotions and experiences. We can all love, feel grief and pain. We can all hit rock bottom, and we can all climb back out of it.
Books also give us the ability to time travel. I can burrow myself into historical fiction for weeks on end and crave more. Books like The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah or The Island of Sea Woman by Lisa See have ripped my heart to shreds but also have built me back up. There’s something incredible about watching people persevere through the hardest moments of humanity, saving others and creating better lives for their children. And it’s amazing to see stories that still move the entire world, hundreds of years after they were written. Jane Austen is a marvel, and Shakespeare’s plays still resound in my soul. It’s incredible how the words of someone from outside of our century can still linger in our lives. We can relate to Elizabeth Bennett just as easily as we relate to the heroine of a modern contemporary romance novel.
Perhaps some of my statements seem too generalized. I could talk about this for hours, write about it for days. Books are everything, and they can be anything. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without the words of the stories I’ve read, the words of people who have lived very different lives from me. Their voices are a gift, a beacon. Books are doorways, and we should walk through them with care but also with a sense of knowing that we will never come back out the same. The words will inevitably change us, but I believe it’s always for the better.
As a mom, I’m overjoyed by the love my son already has for books. Nearing three years old, he has a complete love of books. Whether it be our trips to the library, bookstore, or just pulling books off the shelf to read at home, he’s starting to see the joy and wonder that live within their pages. And whether he’s enjoying the pages of The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle or All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, the joy of reading is there, and it’s beautiful.
Reading is a way to connect. Through discussion or the act of reading together, words bring us together. Reading gives us the power to life a thousand lives, and we can even choose to live the same ones over and over again, as many times as we choose. The possibilities are endless and beautiful, and it’s important to ensure that everyone has the gift and joy of reading.
I loved this post so much! And I loved hearing about your passion for reading when you were younger, and how it’s carried into today as well. I was the same kind of bookworm when I was little, and I’m slowly getting back to that feeling again. It’s so scary what’s happening now, and I agree 100%, we need more diverse books, not to go backwards!
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Yes! I agree. I don’t think books should be censored at all. Reading is so important! I turn into a total grump if I don’t get some reading time in every day 😅