The Boston Book Festival celebrated its 15th anniversary on Oct. 14, 2023, at the Copley Library. With famous speakers like Rick Riordan, presentations about every imaginable genre, and a never-ending collection of books, the festival promised a good time to literature lovers of all ages, cultures, and tastes in books. Every reader, moderator, and author there, no matter how different from the last, appreciated the escapism, empowerment, and empathy of reading.
Reading as escapism:
Something that all readers seem to love is the way that books can transport them to new worlds. Whether it’s the yellow brick road of Oz or the Victorian mansions of “Pride and Prejudice,” reading takes people to places they could never otherwise go. Emaline, a young book lover, shares her happiness in the new worlds books offer, saying her favorite thing about reading is “imagining it in my head.” It’s fun for her, as it is for so many other readers, to go on incredible journeys and make incredible discoveries all because of their favorite stories and characters.
Not only is imagining yourself in stories, but it also can work as a coping skill for people when real life is too much to handle. College student Dayshanay describes how she loves the escapism reading provides her when dealing with the disappointments and struggles of everyday life. “Books are that world that you can escape to and find answers in,” she explains.
Kelly Brotzman, the director of the Prison Books Program, describes reading as “a moment of freedom,” a moment that is especially needed for the incarcerated people her organization advocates for but is important for everyone. Between the support that it can provide and the fun experiences it can create, reading seems to always find a way to make people’s lives better.
Reading as empowerment:
This help that reading provides extends beyond helping people individually into helping better society at large. Boston Book Festival is incredibly open about the influence reading can have on social justice: hosting talks about “literary defiance” and workshops about protest in everyday life.
One volunteer working the festival described reading as “critical for being able to live in society,” a sentiment that all of the festival seems to agree with.
Reading is a form of expression, a form of advocacy, a form of protest that can truly change the world. As Tan Twan Eng, author of “The House of Doors,” says, “if a character isn’t trying to change something then there’s no story.”
Reading as empathy:
Perhaps the most beautiful part of books is not how they help us to understand ourselves or the world, but the way they allow us to better understand each other. Just as reading can bring us to new worlds, it can introduce us to new experiences. At 826 Boston, a nonprofit that helps kids create, share, and publish their writing, reading is seen as a crucial part of improving kids’ social-emotional skills. “[Reading] is being able to understand and feel the thoughts and experiences of someone you relate to or you don’t,” says Karen, an employee of the organization. This is true not just of kids, but of everyone who ever finds themselves considering a new perspective after reading a book. As “The City Beautiful” author Aden Polydoros put it: “Reading teaches empathy.” After seeing people of all different backgrounds from Boston and beyond come together over a love of books, I don’t think I can disagree.
Reading has a lot of different meanings to different people. Nothing shows this better than the variety of words, characters, and stories that appeared at the Boston Book Festival. But among every different reader and every different book is a common love of the beauty and happiness that reading creates for them.