I will start this post by saying I am a white, cishet woman. For better or for worse, my world has been defined by those qualities, just like all of us are influenced by our geography, upbringing, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, and a million other factors. There is literally no other person on the planet who has experienced the exact same things you have experienced, or who sees the world exactly as you do.
But while each of our individual POVs are unique, that does not make them more compelling, more important, or more valuable than someone else’s. We are not the only characters in this book—everyone you meet is the hero of their own story, and those stories are interwoven with millions and billions of others.
Last year, Gene Luen Yang, rock star author/illustrator and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, started a campaign called Reading Without Walls. The concept is simple: read books that take you outside your own experiences, and maybe even outside your comfort zone. A book meets the Reading Without Walls challenge if it:
1. Is about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you.
2. Is about a topic you don’t know much about.
3. Is in a format that you don’t normally read for fun. This might be a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, a picture book, or a hybrid book.
I’m lucky enough to work in the publishing industry, which means I can get my hands on a lot of books. So this year, I wanted to take this challenge very seriously. For every book I read that felt familiar to me, I wanted to read at least one that showed me something new. The beautiful thing about books is that we readers get the chance to inhabit another character’s story, if only for a little while. We get to see the world through different eyes and have thoughts that are not our own. Books will never replace real human interaction or experience, but they open doors to stories we may never get to know otherwise.
What I’ve found through this challenge, 8 months in, is that I know very little. My tiny bubble of a universe has been expanding, but it is still just that—a tiny little bubble. That’s humbling and horrifying at the same time, and yet I find it strangely comforting that there are hundreds more books out there that can help me overcome my lack of knowledge bit by bit.
We all need to work on closing the ignorance gap so that in a generation, we won’t have people in this country who believe it’s okay to embrace hatred and racism. There is no excuse for ignorance, and there should be no tolerance for lack of respect or kindness. Reading has actually been proven to increase our empathy, so there has really never been a more important time for people to pick up a book and learn.
Of course, books can’t teach us everything—we still need to go out into the world and physically stand up for what’s right, take time to try new things, and find small, daily ways to spread love. But when you have a spare moment, take the Reading Without Walls challenge. Actively seek out new characters, new topics, and new forms of storytelling. Now, more than ever, we must get to know the other heroes around us, to learn about our differences, and to celebrate what brings us together.
*Post Image by Gene Luen Yang