Writing about a love of reading can feel like preaching to the choir. After all, most people who sit down to read such a thing (probably) like reading enough as a baseline to bother … Well, reading. But I still feel there is no solace quite like a book. It feels trite to say we’re in difficult times, but again, it feels true to say that books have been helping me keep a sense of stability and relief while so many of us are under so much stress. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, a seemingly endless news cycle, and the ongoing loss of our precious rights, books are still here for us.
Of course, I can’t wax poetic about books without mentioning that books are also under attack. As Daily Kos continues to cover, we’re seeing conservatives push down against books hard in both public libraries and public school classrooms. Books facing challenges are mostly by LGBTQ+ folks and writers of color (and especially so if the writer is a queer person of color), but there’s a considerable range otherwise. There are picture books under attack. Graphic novels. Memoirs. Young adult fiction. Nonfiction. Classics. New releases. And all the while, young readers waiting to see what books are going to drop from a world they can access.
So, what can we do? Keep reading—and keep making sure others can read, too.
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While plenty of people read purely for entertainment, I truly believe books do incredible work in teaching us about others and about ourselves. In addition to the obvious exposure to folks who are not like us—learning about other cultures, religions, and lifestyles, for example—books can fundamentally teach us empathy, compassion, and critical thinking skills. Books can keep our attention beyond a clickbait headline. Books can remind us that we all possess a deep humanity that isn’t always at the forefront of, say, arguing with a stranger on the internet about mask mandates.
Supporting authors is one of the obvious ways to keep books accessible for all. This can look like buying a book, sure. It can also look like requesting a book at your local library. It can also look like speaking out against censorship attempts at your local school board meeting. It can even include advocating on behalf of readers who aren’t like yourself—maybe your library system isn’t great about providing large-print books or audiobooks, for example. If you have the time to do some polite outreach and make requests, it could really help your overall community access free content.
It’s also always valuable to make an effort to read books by marginalized writers. Yes, read what you want. And yes, take time to reflect on what you’re reading and where your dollars are going. When it comes to buying presents for a friend or family member, for example, considering supporting an author whose identity is historically or systemically under attack if you normally go for white, cisgender, heterosexual folks.
There’s also a great joy to be found in community and family book events. As we’ve seen as of late, for instance, the far-right Proud Boys have taken to terrorizing kids and families at LGBTQ+ Pride Month book events. Pride Month is coming to a close, but these sorts of efforts should happen all year, and at no point do kids deserve to be screamed at or have their programming canceled.
Even if you don’t have kids, it can still be effective to reach out and show support for such programming. It can even make a positive impact to share such events on social media and drop a few words of encouragement for the staff creating them.
I’d love to hear what you’re reading this summer or any reading challenges you’re doing. (And if you’re a writer yourself, please feel free to share your own work!)
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