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Why Make America Read?

The pictures of Jonathan Harris, a Cleveland librarian wearing a blocky, red Make America Read Again hat and passing out books at the Republican National Convention last summer might have made you laugh. I know I laughed. Hell yes, let’s make America read again.

But as the election season went on and the din of people yelling over each other grew louder, the call to read grew more serious to me. Apparently, I'm not alone, seeing as bookstores can't keep copies of George Orwell's 1984 on the shelves. But I think we need to read beyond dystopian novels. We should be reading American stories, the books that are not for us, that show us a different experience from our own, books that make us laugh and cry, and books that help us understand the world and how we got here. 

Reading bursts bubbles. It takes you out of your own head and puts you into someone else’s. It makes you think critically about the information constantly coming at us all.

Make America Read Again is not about making everyone think alike. People read books and reach different conclusions all the time; attend any book club, and you’ll see that.

Reading makes people think. It sparks curiosity. You start to wonder, and then you’re wandering through new information, thinking about the world differently, maybe even changing your mind. The smallest of examples: I never much liked any sport, least of all boring baseball, until, reading Shoeless Joe, the W.P. Kinsella novel on which Field of Dreams is based. Kinsella’s magical realism was my portal to the great American pastime, and I soon found myself in the nonfiction section, with The Teammates by David Halberstam, and the children’s section, with Summerlandby Michael Chabon. Then, I was reading sports stories online and going to spring training games, genuinely excited and charmed by the experience. Reading, thinking, reading, thinking — it’s an infinite, circular process.

Reading should be an American virtue if informed citizens are the key to a healthy democracy. We’re a big country, home to millions of people from countries and cultures all over the world. Read enough — read broadly — and you can’t help but make connections between disparate ideas and people. And when you see the connections among us, kindness, compassion and empathy follow.

And beyond all that, reading is fun, cheap entertainment. A comfortable chair and a good book (Free! Yay libraries!) — sometimes I think that’s all I need in the world. I can learn anything, travel anywhere, be anybody. For me, reading is a comfort and a joy.

Make America Read Again is not about the books you should read or the books you need to be a good citizen — or, at least, it’s not just about them. Make America Read Again is about making Americans read more — more books, more often, about more diverse topics. Last year, a majority of Americans said they read one book. That’s a start, but I think we can do better.

So, hell yes, let’s Make America Read Again.

— Hillary