I would start this speech with a question: why should we read? Today marks the start of RGS book week, and Thursday is World Book Day – an international celebration of books – so there is arguably no better occasion is there to address this question.
I have always loved reading and I enjoy it, so for me that’s enough of a reason to sit down and read, but for someone who perhaps thinks that reading isn’t for them or just needs a more substantial reason, it may not be obvious.
As someone who has read a good many books, from murder mysteries to biographies, long books and short books, fiction and non-fiction, what I have learned is this. When you read, you have the entirely unique opportunity to experience life as someone else; you, quite literally, can read minds.
Over the summer, I read Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale which follows a young woman – Offred – and her struggle against life of servitude in the fictional country of Gilead. I found this novel deeply moving. The brilliance of the story, however, comes not through the plot or the quality of writing – both of which were excellent – but through how Attwood crafts her world to be eerily similar to ours. There is just enough of our world in there that the novel serves as a warning of how easily a seemingly robust system can be twisted by those in power to oppress its citizens in the name of religion or the greater good. I will never be a woman, so I can never genuinely appreciate what it must feel like to live in a state that impinges on my basic reproductive rights, but, reading a book like the Handmaid’s Tale, where I live alongside Offred and see the world through her eyes, can bring me just a little closer to understanding. And, fundamentally, that’s what reading is about, that is why we should read. To quote Malorie Blackman, former Children’s Laureate, “Reading is an exercise in empathy”.
So, while it’s true that reading alleviates stress, boosts your vocabulary, improves your sleep cycle, and all these other wonderful things, the reality of why you should read is far more simple, far more human. We all should read because reading helps us understand each other, and in this increasingly polarised, conflict-filled world of ours, a little understanding and a little empathy will do great deal.
Lower Sixth Form