My inspiration to Make America Read arrived a little more than a year ago with this Wall Street Journal article, shared on a friend's Facebook page, about how people's Facebook likes fall along party lines. We lamented living in bubbles, but what struck me most was the sad variety of the books liked on Facebook: Gatsby and Tolkien on the left, the Bible and the Farmers' Almanac on the right. Look, I've read all of those, but there are so many books! Let's look beyond utility and high school reading lists. I joked that what we really needed to do was #MakeAmericaReadAgain.
But, as I said in the very first Make America Read newsletter, the hashtag quickly lost its humor and became a mission. I believe reading develops compassion, critical thinking and civil discourse, things that make each of us and our communities better. Make America Read is about reading more — more books, more often, about more topics. I want you to read the books you love, whatever they are, but I also want us all to read the books we think aren't for us. I want us to read the books that challenge us, that ask us to think about people who live differently than we do, that make us consider ideas, that show us places we might never see.
This Washington Post column has been making the rounds — its provocative headline says the death of reading is killing our souls — and lays out some interesting math:
"... at an average reading speed of 400 words per minute, it would take 417 hours in a year to read 200 books—less than the 608 hours the average American spends on social media, or the 1,642 hours watching TV."
I have some quibbles with the column — mostly that it's the usual end-of-reading lament we see every few years, even as book sales rise and young adults keep reading — but I appreciated the central point: We all have time to read, if we only prioritize it. Further, we should prioritize reading because it's good for us. It entertains. It focuses our brains. It sparks creativity. It educates and inspires.
With every edition of this newsletter, my goal is to get you to pick up another book or find a few extra minutes of reading time or read something you never thought you would. We encourage our children to read at least 15 minutes each day, knowing it will build their vocabulary and exercise their brains. We should give our own brains at least that much of a workout.