It’s easy to think of reading as just a pastime.

Something we do to unwind or escape from the stresses of our daily lives.

But in reality, reading is much more than that.

It’s a powerful tool for personal growth and social change.

When I engage with literature, I expand my perspectives, challenge my assumptions, and develop a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me.

At its core, reading is a political act.

It involves making choices about what information I consume and how I interpret it, not in the least because books don’t exist in a vacuum.

The books I choose to read, the authors I follow, and the ideas I engage with can all have profound implications for my personal politics.

For example, if I only read books written by authors from one particular background or perspective, I risk limiting my understanding of the world and reinforcing existing biases.

Just think of how the literary world has been dominated by men and the male perspective to a point where Nate Lembke thought he was doing women a favour by performatively reading only female authors (until he got to the NYT Bestseller list).

One of the most powerful things about reading is its ability to spark empathy.

When I read about the experiences of people from different backgrounds or cultures, I’m able to step into their shoes, to see the world through their eyes, and to connect with them on a deeper level.

This kind of empathy can break down barriers between people and help to foster greater understanding and cooperation.

Reading can inspire me to take action.

When I encounter stories of people who have overcome adversity or fought for social justice, I’m reminded of the power of individual action and the importance of standing up for what I believe in.

Reading motivates me to get involved in my communities, to support causes I care about, and to work towards creating a more just and equitable society.

Of course, not all reading is created equal.

It’s important to be intentional about the books I choose to read and the ideas I engage with.

This means seeking out diverse perspectives, challenging myself with ideas that are different from my own, and being willing to engage in meaningful discussions about the issues that matter most to me.

I can’t talk about my ability read without acknowledging the politics behind it.

It’s important to recognise the barriers that can prevent people from accessing literature and to work towards breaking them down.

These barriers can include everything from lack of access to quality education to the high cost of books and other materials.

By working to increase access to literature, I can help to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to engage with ideas and perspectives that can shape their personal politics and inspire positive change.

Reading and literacy have had a profound impact on societies throughout history.

As more people have become literate and had access to literature, it has played a role in shaping political, social, and cultural movements.

Here are some examples:

  1. The Printing Press and the Reformation: The invention of the printing press in the 15th century made books more widely available and affordable, which led to an increase in literacy rates. This, in turn, helped to spread ideas and knowledge, including the ideas of the Protestant Reformation. The printing press allowed the Bible to be printed in local languages, which helped to empower people and reduce the power of the Catholic Church.
  2. The Enlightenment: In the 18th century, the Enlightenment was a movement that emphasized reason, science, and human rights. This movement was largely driven by intellectuals who wrote books and articles that were read by a growing middle class. The ideas of the Enlightenment helped to shape modern Western societies and continue to influence politics and culture today.
  3. Women’s Suffrage: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the women’s suffrage movement fought for the right to vote. Women’s literacy rates increased during this time, and many women read books and newspapers to learn about their rights and to connect with other suffragettes. Reading helped to educate women and empower them to demand equal rights.
  4. Civil Rights Movement: During the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States was driven in part by the Black press, which was read by African Americans across the country. The Black press helped to expose the injustices of segregation and discrimination and played a key role in organizing protests and boycotts.
  5. The Digital Age: Today, with the rise of the internet and social media, reading and literacy continue to shape society. The internet has made it easier than ever for people to access information and connect with others who share their interests and beliefs. Social media has been used to organise political protests and to raise awareness about issues such as police brutality and climate change.

Reading and literacy has and continues to play a key role in shaping society.

As more people became literate and had access to literature, they were able to educate themselves, connect with others, and demand change.

The internet today is a treasure trove of information, just waiting for you to come read it.

In many cases, reading has been a tool for empowering marginalised groups and challenging existing power structures.

Today, as we continue to grapple with issues like inequality and climate change, reading and literacy remain important tools for creating positive change.

What effect does reading fiction have on a personal and societal level?

Reading fiction has a wide range of effects on both levels.

On a personal level, reading fiction offers numerous benefits that enhance an your personal well-being.

Reading fiction gives you a chance to empathise with characters who may come from different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.

This understanding will (hopefully) lead to a greater appreciation of diversity in real life.

Reading fiction stimulates the mind by requiring you to engage your imagination.

And it gives you an opportunity to think critically about characters and plot (even if you don’t take it every time).

This mental stimulation can help to prevent cognitive decline and keep the mind sharp.

Reading fiction reduces stress levels by providing a form of escapism.

For those dealing with anxiety or depression, reading can be a valuable tool in managing their mental health. I know it has been for me.

It can also inspire creativity by exposing you to new ideas and ways of thinking. This is especially beneficial for writers and artists who are seeking inspiration for their own work.

On a societal level:

  • Social understanding: Reading fiction increases social understanding by exposing readers to a variety of perspectives and experiences. This can be particularly important for promoting understanding and tolerance across cultures and subgroups.
  • Cultural preservation: Fiction can help to preserve cultural traditions and promote cultural pride by capturing stories and traditions in a way that can be shared with future generations.
  • Encouraging critical thinking: Reading fiction often requires readers to think critically about character motivations, plot twists, and themes. This can help to promote critical thinking and analysis skills, which are important for navigating complex social and political issues.
  • Encouraging civic engagement: Fiction can inspire readers to engage in civic activities by raising awareness of social issues and inspiring people to take action.

Reading is a powerful tool for personal growth and social change.

It has the ability to shape our beliefs and values, to spark empathy and understanding, and to inspire us to take action.

When we engage with literature intentionally and critically, we have the opportunity to expand our perspective and create a more just and equitable society.

So, next time you pick up a book, remember that you’re not just engaging in a leisure activity – you’re taking part in a political act that has the power to change the world ❤️