I have two real passions in life: listening to jazz and reading books.
I'll save for another day, a discussion about my love of jazz. For now, I'll use some of the space on my blog to talk about books.
I admit that I own a lot of books.
My colleagues who drop by my office often crack jokes about how I'm running out of space for books.
I can't prove it scientifically, but I believe that if a scientist sequenced my DNA, they would find buried somewhere in that long molecule cells coded for the two things I love to do the most, listening to jazz and reading.
The bookcases in my home and office are stacked with books.
I have books laying on top of books on my bookshelves (some books are even in stacks on my floor).
I have boxes of books in my closet and in my storage space in the basement of my complex.
Most of the books in my office are about race, gender, and class. I have books on race and politics, autobiographical and biographical books about important historical figures of color, books about social movements such as the black Civil Rights and Chicano Movements, books on philosophy (African, African American and European), and books by and about Karl Marx and other leftist thinkers.
Most of the books in my apartment are fiction. In addition to classic fiction books by authors of color ranging from James Baldwin and Zora Neal Hurston to Langston Hughes and Junot Diaz, I have fiction by white authors ranging from Jon Krakauer and William Golding to Philip Roth and John Updike.
Students who drop by my office always ask me whether I've read all the books on my bookshelves.
The truth is that I haven't read everything. But, I've read a huge chunk of the books that I own. Even though I constantly strive to carve out more time in my busy schedule to read even more than I currently do, it pains me to admit that I haven't had the time to read every one of my books.
So, why buy so many books if I don't have the time to read them all? One reason I do it is because of something a professor I had when I was an undergraduate once told me. He said, "I should get every book that I'm interested in because although they're here today they may be gone tomorrow and hard to find." A lot of the books I own are currently out of print.
So, why do I love books so much?
First of all, I love books so much because I love to learn. I sometime joke with people about how the moment I stop trying to learn is when I'll know that I'm dead.
I also love books, because I strongly believe that reading and educating myself was my key out of the ghetto.
Someone asked me the other day, "what is the reason for your success in life." I answered, "I realized a long time ago that I'm both the source and solution to 99.99% of my problems."
This doesn't mean that I'm blaming people for their problems as many conservatives often do. It's certainly not a suggestion that all one needs to do is pull up their bootstraps if you want to be successful. I'm a social scientist, so I fully understand the role structures and institutions play in promulgating racial and class inequality in American society.
But, I also believe that to fully challenge oppressive systems, we have to find a way to take charge of our lives and arm ourselves with the tools needed to fight for our freedom.
Educating oneself through reading is a tool people everywhere can use to win their freedom.
Paulo Freire summed up my thinking best when he wrote: "Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."
Or, as Dr. Suess put it in his book, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, "The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."
The beautiful thing about what you learn from reading is that no one can take that away from you.
Of course, many household in America, especially one's headed by people of color, do not have books in them.
Here are a few practical things we can all do to change that.
This holiday season, instead of buying an Xbox 360 or Sony Playstation 3, give kids a stack of books. In fact, give kids books for their birthday. Heck, give them books anytime you feel like it.
Also, cut the television off and use the time to read to and with your kids.
And, rather than take kids to the movie sometimes take them to the library or drop by a bookstore and sit and read.
Finally, make time to volunteer to teach a kid (or an adult) to read and write.