Why I Read

October 15, 2011

I know a few people who simply don’t read. Well, that’s not quite accurate—they don’t read books. They read things on the internet, or they flip through magazines or the newspaper. Some simply aren’t interested in books, while others say they fall asleep as soon as they sit down with a book.

This is unthinkable.

My life would be immeasurably poorer without books. They’ve been my teachers and companions since I first deciphered letters on the page. If I were an Egyptian queen, I’d want to be buried with my library.

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
—Jorge Luis Borges

I find connection with other people through reading—a sort of validation that my feelings and thoughts are not unique to the world. I find this particularly in the writings of women, especially those who have the experience of trying to balance family commitments with some type of artistic life.

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”
 —Ursula K. Le Guin

I read to learn—not only about practicalities, like how to take better photos (The Digital Photography Book) or use my time more effectively (168 Hours), but to see what it would be like to live in a different time, or as a man, or even as a horse (Black Beauty). As a writer, I read to improve my writing by immersing myself in beautiful language. I observe how other writers structure their work, and play with words. I read to try to understand other people’s points of view, thus expanding my own. I read to escape to new worlds, to laugh, to enrich my life. I know reading books isn't the only way to do these things, but I feel that people who don't read books miss out on a lot.

“If you would understand your own age, read the works of fiction produced in it. People in disguise speak freely.”
—Sir Arthur Helps

Mostly, though, I read for the sheer pleasure of it.

Why do you read?

“In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to lead; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.”
—S.I. Hayakawa

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  1. I read because I can't imagine not reading. I love the way fiction can sometimes be truer than the "truth." I love learning about other times and people. I love to escape into other worlds.

  2. ...ditto! I read constantly...for pleasure and knowledge. I can't even fall asleep at night unless I read first...

  3. I also ditto all of the reasons that you read and what you get out of it.... with one huge exception -- i am one of those that does fall asleep pretty quickly when i try to read before bed. I am most successful in reading when I venture to a coffee house during lunch time by myself -- then I can read a bit before going back to work.

  4. Ditto your reasons and as Cheryl says, I can't imagine not reading.

    I finding reading an escape much like others find an escape in watching a video. By reading though, I feel like I exercise my imagination as I try to imagine the places described, the clothes people wear, etc., rather than seeing it on the screen where all I have to do is look.

    I also like the intellectual challenge of figuring out "who-dunnits!"

  5. Cheryl--I agree--fiction can be truer than "truth."

  6. Kelly--Me, either! If I ever do go to sleep without reading first, I know I'm really, really, really tired.

  7. Claire--Reading at lunchtime, one of my favorite things! I do read at bedtime, but sometimes not for very long if I'm really tired. I do try to go to bed before I'm completely exhausted just so I CAN read, though!

  8. Laure--Maybe it's the control freak in me coming out that I prefer reading (usually) to watching video--maybe I want the "control" of imagining what everything and everybody looks like! Who-dunits are my favorites, even though I guess wrong most of the time!

  9. Hi Kathy,

    You said it best. I also read to gain the perspective of others, and to relax my body as I keep my brain going with new ideas. Both of my parents are avid readers, and I just grew up that way. It was never viewed as a waste of time or anything like that.

    Now I read while watching t.v. --- my husband rarely reads books, but we can still be next to each other (with our separate remotes, lol) and hang out, but I feel as if I'm getting something else done.

    Thanks so much for stopping by to see me. I think that I'd rather put up with the flies than with some of the other things that Florida has to offer, ha!


    Kathy M.

  10. I used to be a reader of books. I am still a reader but now it's blogs. I don't know why I gave it up. Partly because I like happy endings and partly because I wanted to know that the book was a good one before I bought it. By good I mean believable. I got several books I just set aside because it didn't seem true to life and it was not fun to read them. I started reading at 4 years of age and stopped at 54 when I found the internet. I keep meaning to get back to it. Maybe I should start today. Will it be The Help (I prefer books to movies anytime) or Barbara Delinsky's Family Tree? Hmmm... one is "in" and one is "just a dime novel" but which will I like best to restart a habit with, that is the question!

  11. Lovely post--I read for many of the same reasons you do, but also I like reading as a way of expanding my horizons. I wish I could afford to travel more, but with a book I can escape to any destination on the planet (or outside it!) and any period in history! I really don't know what I would do if I couldn't read. I would be lost I think as I rely on it so much! And I do wonder sometimes what people who don't read at all do with their free time? Not that there isn't always Something to do, but watching people gaze out of the bus windows on work commutes...it seems like there would always be a few free minutes in the day to pick up a book. They must not realize what they are missing! :)

  12. Kathy--my husband is an avid reader also, though our tastes are very different. We hardly ever read a book the other person has enjoyed and recommended!

    It was my pleasure to stop by...and yes, I think I'd rather have flies than what we had in our kitchen last night: a little, bitty...scorpion!

  13. Timaree--Blogs are addicting, I've found! Maybe you could start reading books written by bloggers--there are tons out there! I've heard The Help is really good, but haven't read it yet. If you do, let me know what you think.

  14. Danielle--On my flight home from California, the lady in the aisle seat simply sat there the whole time. No book, no magazine, no electronics... I can't fathom it, but maybe she was engrossed in deep thought. All that reading time--wasted!

    Through books, I've been all over the world and lived in many different eras...so I'm with you about reading expanding the horizon.