Do you want to go on a grand adventure? Open a book. Whether you are a slow reader or an avid devourer of the written word, reading is the key to any door. That door depends on you and your perspective.

Think of someone or something you fear, then read a book with has a similar character or plot to something that scares you and that you would normally avoid. Allow your reading to humanize the person you fear. Reading allows you to see more than your perspective; it gives you a wide range of ways to look at people, subjects, and things. You may not agree with everything you read; however, it does allow you to consider other ideas and thoughts outside of your own. This consideration challenges you and pushes you to consider that your ideas and opinions are only one viewpoint and they could be flawed. That said, you must read some things you disagree with sometimes, or this doesn’t work. Reading empowers you and helps you to empower others.

As a social worker I have been asked to discuss many sensitive topics and discuss the uncomfortable, but I was only able to do that after reading books that made me consider various perspectives. I am often asked to discuss race and oppression in lectures or various discussions. I would never discuss such a crucial topic without a lot of reading paired with consternation and consideration. I consider all the books I have read and poured over on race and inequality. As a white woman, how can I have anything eloquent to say about race relations? I do understand inequality and could make comparisons, but it’s not enough. Comparisons from my own experiences are not adequate for an important topic like this. I needed books, and without books, I could not stand in front of a room full of graduate students or community partners and say, ‘racial disparity exists, and until those that are unaffected by it do something, then nothing is going to change.’ I’m not the first person to say this and I won’t be the last, but I can say this with conviction. Books did that. I would not know someone like Carl T. Rowan; he was a journalist and author. He was one of the first black reporters in our history and is the only person ever to interview Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and that interview led to some of the most profound discussions about race and justice in America. Justice Marshall was not without controversy, and that’s what made him iconic and flawed, and easy to identify with on so many levels. Mr. Rowan allowed you a view of this great man’s life through a book, but it was only one perspective. This means you need to read other books and writings on this man and this topic. An interesting fact found from reading, Mr. Rowan was also not without controversy because he shot a man after years of fighting for stricter gun laws. All of these nuggets came from books and without each book and each story I could not talk about race and inequality the way I do today. Mr. Rowan said, “the library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history.” This statement resonates with me to my core.

I enjoyed listening to Lisa Bu’s TEDTalk, and it affirmed the things I knew, and when she discussed the magic portal that books offer and how comparative reading can lead to empathy and understanding, I did a little happy dance inside my head. This viewpoint allows you to get outside of yourself and your view.

Books are not just for history and self-improvement; they are also for fantasy and fun. What else could take you into the mind of a teenage wizard and make you feel like you are right there with the wizard on various adventures? Movies can’t make you feel like that, but books can and do every day. You can be transported to any place at any time by simply opening a book.

I suggest you surround yourself with books of all kinds. Ones that challenge and confuse you and ones that nurture and soothe you. Get a library card, find your nearest Half Priced Books, or pay full price when you can. If you do buy and gather a good selection, you should always trade with others your favorites for their favorites. Return them, but never get bitter if you don’t see them again because they are somewhere growing someone. Buy books as gifts for others. Consider the spark you may be creating.

Books open the doors, but we have to decide whether we go through them or not.

Remember, “if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” -Marcus Tullius Cicero

Happy reading!