The Importance of Reading – A Lesson from Judith Butler

by Jenna Danoy, Social Media Marketing Intern

This year, we’ve seen a pretty outstanding crop of college commencement speakers – ranging from author Toni Morrison to President Barack Obama to the Dalai Lama. Every one of them has delivered some piece of incredible advice – but one speaker’s words stuck with us in particular.

Post-structuralist philosopher, feminist scholar, and queer theorist Judith Butler gave the 2013 commencement address at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. While her work stretches far beyond the realm of what Behind the Book teaches, we found her words to be very much related to our mission statement. (You can listen to the speech here.)

As Butler states in her speech, we read with the hope that “we [will] lose ourselves in what we read, only to return to ourselves, transformed and part of a more expansive world.” She goes on to say that, through reading, we become better people, more aware of our effect on the world and its effect on us. Reading is a means by which millions upon millions of people can learn more, be more, and think more, and through those processes we can achieve more.

While Butler’s statements sweep far and wide, and are generally geared toward an older audience, we agree with her sentiments. In fact, Behind the Book’s main goal, as you all know, is to empower kids to be passionate about reading, to want to read as much as they can, and to give them access to as many books as possible.

Eventually, we hope that our students will become scholars and educators, and people with vast and powerful critical thinking skills. We hope our students will take advantage of their chances to read, to learn, and to analyze. And, above all, we hope that they will carry their love of reading throughout their lives.

Because Judith Butler is right. Every time you pick up a book, you enter a new world. You are faced with new challenges, other people’s desires, other-worldly societies. Even if what you’re reading is classified as “realistic fiction,” it’s still fiction. Each time you pick up that book, you are still entering a new world, and that ability to transition from your world to the world in your book is invaluable.

Reading teaches you how to adapt. Reading teaches you how to put yourself in others’ shoes. And, above all, reading teaches you to be tolerant, and to think before you judge. All of these skills are immensely important to learn – particularly in today’s society, in which everyone seems quick to pass judgment and cut themselves off from a whole world they could have explored.

As we embark on the second half of our tenth year, we reflect on the hundreds and hundreds of students we have reached, and we are proud to know that we have, in some capacity, taught them how important reading really is.

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