Read Think Act: Lighthouse on books and activism

Lighthouse Books have launched a video series looking to explore the connections between books and activism. We speak to Digital Campaigns Manager Jessica Gaitán Johannesson to learn more

Feature by Heather McDaid | 08 Nov 2021
  • Read Think Act

“Read Think Act is really a continuation of the way we do all our bookselling at Lighthouse, with community action and solidarity at its heart,” explains Jessica Gaitán Johannesson, on the bookshop’s new video series. “Be it through the books we stock and recommend, or in the authors we invite for events, we want the work we feature to empower readers to make positive change, while fostering a supportive local community.”

Lighthouse is a beacon in Edinburgh's book scene, with the team tirelessly pushing to do more for audiences beyond just Scotland's capital, the latest of which – their video series – explores the intersections of books and activism, diving a little deeper with the authors into respective topics. “During the pandemic, like everyone else, we had to think about ways of moving online, to still offer that inspiration and presence with physical restrictions in place. I joined Lighthouse as Digital Campaigns Manager in May, and found that our ethos of Read Think Act – already present through blogs and lists on our website – was key to expanding our accessibility, offering discussions around books for people who couldn't get to the shop, or don't have time for a full-hour event. It was also a way of making the connection between reading and activism more explicit.”

Books are inherently linked to activism in its many forms – they disseminate information and ideas, dissect overarching structures in society, and posit ways of revolution and change. They platform ideas, provoke thought and action, and can inspire on an individual and more society-wide level. Accessibility is core to the bookshop’s ethos, and access to this information – offering insight into topics and ideas without the presumption of time or existing knowledge – is equally as important.

“Personally, I think that there's often an assumption that books are almost inherently activist, that they change lives in and of themselves,” notes Johannesson. “I don't disagree with the latter, but I do think there's a gap between an author's concern, the issues of a book, and what people can do, practically, on the ground. Minds need to be changed, but after that we desperately need real, concrete action. It's also something I've thought about a lot as an author who's also a climate justice activist, the two being hugely interlinked. Our aim with the set-up of the videos (the way they're divided into their three parts) is to be able to talk to authors about what people can do. This often involves suggestions of campaigns and organisations to get involved with; particular issues to oppose, but also ways in which we can live differently.”

The series so far includes environmental campaigner and writer, Dr Mya-Rose Craig, who featured in the inaugural video. “The very basis for her book We Have a Dream is to celebrate and connect young indigenous environmental activists and environmental activists of colour, to champion inclusivity in the environmental movement,” explains Johannesson. “She spoke beautifully about how any meaningful climate action cannot be separate from anti-racism and working for equality. We also talked to Joe Mulhall, Senior Researcher at HOPE not Hate and author of Drums in the Distance, a book which lays out the current state of the global far-right. In the video, he explores what kind of action people can take in their everyday lives to fight racism and fascism.

“I've spoken to scholar and activist Andreas Malm about his books How to Blow up a Pipeline and White Skin, Black Fuel. Andreas is such an incredible, honest and bold thinker who's written about strategies in climate activism as well as the threat of the far right in a world of climate breakdown. We also have an episode coming up with Yassmin Abdel-Magied talking about her stunning middle-grade book Listen Layla about revolution, identity, courage and belonging. Particularly, I'd love to invite more fiction writers and poets who are also really active in social and political change-making to take part.

“We're currently scheduling a whole bunch of recordings, so watch this space!”

Push Things Forward: Books to bridge the gap to activism

Here’s Jessica’s pick of books that really bridge the gap between reading and on-the-ground activism in imaginative, inspiring ways...

This Brutal House by Niven Govinden
Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit
Consumed by Aja Barber
What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition by Emma Dabiri
Men Who Hate Women by Laura Bates
On Fire by Naomi Klein
Crosshairs by Catherine Hernandez

Watch Lighthouse's Read Think Act series on their Youtube channel, search for 'Lighthouse Bookshop'

Edinburgh's Radical Book Fair, presented by Lighthouse, takes place 11-14 Nov at Assembly Roxy