The Festival of Books shows anyone can be a reader

Reading is for everyone

“Every time I pick up a new book, I put on a pair of glasses that contain the collective lens with which I view the world, a perspective that I have spent years and hundreds of books constructing. And every time I pick up a new book, my prescription changes.”

Three and a half years ago, I wrote those words for my Common App essay. I had been struggling to find something unique and interesting about myself to write the essay on, and I just kept coming back to how much I love reading. I struggled to make friends in elementary school, but I found sanctuary in books, which developed into a lifelong passion.

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When I tell people I’m an English major, that I always read assigned books and texts for class, or that I still read books for pleasure, I am often met with remarks about how reading just isn’t for them. I strongly disagree; they just haven’t found the right way to read for them. 

Reading is not a monolith, and there is truly something about it for everyone, no matter how short your attention span is or how boring you might find the books assigned for class. If you spend just a little time trying to find the right type of reading for you, you might find a hobby that can follow you your whole life and enrich it in a way few things can.

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is basically my version of Coachella. I’m sure not everyone on campus is as excited about it as I am, but I assure you that if you check the list of guests and events, you will likely find someone or something interesting to you. The FOB features not just authors but actors, chefs, journalists and, most importantly, RuPaul, all brought together by the common theme of literature.

From cookbooks to memoirs, these people have contributed to the endless world of books and written media — to a human legacy of perspective. And with endless possibilities of literature avenues, the FOB and I are here to tell you that there is a book for you.

Literature: What’s in a name?

Okay, so maybe it’s not a book, per se, but the world of literature is not just novels: It also includes comics, short stories, graphic novels, essays, manga and more. I promise those count as literature: My literature and popular culture class literally had Art Spiegelman’s “The Complete Maus,” Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman: Fables and Reflections” and Marvel’s “Shuri Vol. 1: The Search for Black Panther” on the reading list.

If you love traditional novels and series, I am right there with you; but if long formats aren’t your thing, essay collections and short stories offer bite-sized gems of literary satiation. More of a visual person? Manga, comics and graphic novels tell incredible stories — not to mention the beauty and talent of their illustrators. No matter what format your books take, they have so much to offer if you broaden your definition of literature.

Different methods for different readers

I will die on the hill of paper books, but I do understand people’s concerns that books are heavy, expensive and annoying to carry around. Still, there is no excuse for that burden keeping you from reading. Not only are there e-readers like Kindle that allow you to carry around hundreds of books in your pocket, but if e-readers or books carry a financial burden, you can access their more affordable services on your phone via mobile applications.

You can also access audiobooks on your phone, which makes reading not only more convenient but more accessible to those who struggle to focus visually and prefer audio consumption. These also bust the myth that you have no time to read: Most of us drive or walk to work or school almost every day, and even listening to a book for 15 minutes on your commute would allow you to read about a book every two months.

In the same way, committing to reading 10 pages a day before bed or reading for 10 minutes broadens your horizons immensely. It doesn’t take a lot of time or resources to take a small step toward becoming a reader if you want to.

From cookbooks to “Star Wars”

We all consume media in some form. Whether you only watch high fantasy or are a true crime addict, anything you obsess over on TV or in movies has its equal in literature. In fact, many famously adored films and shows are based on books; I will never get tired of my cinephile boyfriend always finding out an incredible movie was based on a book.

Fans of history have choices from biographies and memoirs to historical fiction; if you’re into action movies, “Star Wars” has an entire literary universe, and Marvel and DC Comics contain so much more than just what’s in the movies.

At the FOB, even cookbooks find their place in the literary world, and children’s books are the basis for many events. I know I’m excited to see Max Greenfield talk about his book “I Don’t Want To Read This Book Aloud” and learn about street food vendors’ impact on L.A. culture from community advocates. From politics to poetry, the FOB features something for you.

Making learning accessible

More than anything, reading allows you to be exposed to and understand perspectives you might never otherwise experience. Of course, it provides essential benefits like improving critical thinking skills and cognition, empowering people with knowledge and acting as an escape from everyday life and stressors.

But the most important thing literature can do is build empathy. It can change the way you think about the world, making information and others’ experiences accessible to you in a way almost nothing else can.

When I was 16, I wrote that each time I take off my metaphorical glasses, “I find myself squinting to adjust to the different world to which I have returned. My prescription has changed. So have I.”

Since then, I have read hundreds more books; those glasses would definitely give me a headache. All those books later, I have only deepened my appreciation for the things literature teaches me, and I plan to be a lifelong learner.

So even if you don’t think you are a reader, stop by the FOB and take a chance on something. You might find the book for you, and become a kinder and more empathetic person along the way.

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