Happy International Literacy Day!

Book pages
Happy International Literacy Day!

One of my high school students once asked me, “Mister, why do we read?” I was pretty sure he was trying to get me off on a tangent (which my students quickly learn is an easy way to get out of homework), so I made some noncommittal reply and moved on.

Later, when I recounted this story to our school’s English Department Head, his eyes got wide as he asked, “Well, what did you say?” When I told him about my dismissive reply, he looked me in the eye and said,

“No. When they ask that tell them we learn to read because we can. We read because dogs can’t. It’s what makes us human.”

Since I’ve been trying to make up for that classroom omission ever since, on this day, as a small penance, here are my favorite quotes on reading and of course… why we read.


1. “Reading is not walking on the words; it’s grasping the soul of them.”

― Paulo Freire

Malcolm X

2. “My alma mater was books, a good library…. I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.”

— Malcolm X

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 20: Joyce Carol Oates, acclaimed US Novelist, appears at a photocall prior to participating in the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2012 on August 20, 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Edinburgh is the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, and this year approximately 800 authors will participate in the literary festival. (Photo by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images)

3. “Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”

— Joyce Carol Oates

4. “It is interesting to note that although we prescribe literacy to the oppressed, literacy has not necessarily cured the oppressor… We say to the supposedly lesser-developed: Literacy will help you build a just society, although it has not done that for us.”

— Derek Rasmussen

5. “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

— Mark Twain

BB King

6. “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”

— B.B. King


7. “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.… The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Book Burning

8. “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
― Ray Bradbury

Groucho Marx

9. “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
― Groucho Marx

Not Alone

10. “We read to know we’re not alone.”
― William Nicholson, Shadowlands

Any favorites that I missed?

Either way – happy International Literacy Day – time to go read a book…

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