Throughout history there have been many attempts to suppress literature. Book burning, book banning, and book suppression: successive efforts by oppressive authorities have lasted for a while but not permanently. Human resilience wins out almost every time, if not every tome.

But while book suppression is in force, the harm caused for each community affected is significant and lasting. Put it another way: it’s dangerous for a society not to read.

Not everyone needs to be a reader but we all deserve the opportunity. A free society is not free unless we have the right to keep informed, educated and engaged.

There is plenty of evidence to show us that reading has physical and mental health benefits

If a society is deprived of reading – as in dystopian tales like Fahrenheit 451 and The Handmaid’s Tale [B1189], or real-time examples such as Mao’s China or Hitler’s Germany – the communal soul sickens, perhaps even to a fatal degree. Reading fosters empathy and compassion for the plight of others. Reading allows us to extend our imagination into the hearts of people we will never meet in lands far away in place or time.

Without reading

Without reading, a society is at risk of shrinking into parochialism, bigotry and intolerance of anything outside the boundaries of that community. Our field of view narrows. Our mental and spiritual horizon shrinks. Our imagination begins to atrophy and we risk devolving as critical thinkers and informed judgement-makers. In short, we can turn myopic. For the wellbeing of a community, we need access to reading, unfiltered by doctrinal control and readily available to all.

Without reading, the populace loses heart in more ways than one. Our courage to make bold decisions in the face of adversity can fail. Our resourcefulness in seeking out creative solutions can fail. And our minds and bodies, literally our heart, are less able to withstand the pressures because we have no wider library of knowledge to consult.

If we rely only on movies and television to present us with the pre-cooked meals of information, rather than the critical capacity that comes from reading and thinking about subject matter, and then discussing these ideas with others, we will be poorer thinkers. We will be more akin to sheep than shepherds. We will be led, rather than leading.

They, a recently republished novella from 1977, depicts a society in which bland conformity is the terrifying order of the day. Violent gangs roam the country destroying art and culture and brutalising those who resist the purge. Books are taken, libraries burned, and all original thought is suppressed.

Reading matters to the mind as much as exercise for the body

Reading is quite simply good for us. We require it to live a balanced and healthy life. With all the distractions around us today, the practice of reading can be beneficial in myriad ways. Even better, when we have read a satisfying or even an annoying book, we can discuss and share our reading experiences and the ideas stimulated by reading. That is one of the major reasons why books clubs are so popular.

In 1922, Victoria had a highly successful government-supported program called Book Discussion Groups. In 1947, CAE took over this program and renamed it Book Groups. The program is still going more than 100 years later, having expanded to other states and territories. It is now the country’s largest, as well as oldest, book clubs program. We all deserve the opportunity to read and to share our thoughts and ideas and impressions. A healthy society depends on such freedoms.