Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Why bother reading books?

Reading books is like my bone marrow, something that runs deep in me which I'm pretty sure I'd be unable to live without. I've never tried stopping anyway. Perhaps I could pause for a fixed period of time, if someone offered me a huge sum of money, but I'd be counting down the days until I could start again. Lucky for me, reading is a good addiction to have. Whenever I hear people say they never read, I wonder what replacement could offer so much pleasure and so many benefits?

If they asked me in turn, 'What's the big deal about reading?' I have some answers prepared. In the past I might have replied, 'I dunno, I just love it.' But I get frustrated with that sort of answer. Although it's true that pure enjoyment is all the justification we need, it may come across as evasive, unhelpful and a bit lazy to people who may be really interested. My reasons below paint a more complete picture about the joy which comes from books. 

1) Reading enables me to empathise with others who are nothing like me on the surface. It broadens my concept of our world, and helps me see that essentially we are all the same where it counts.
That sentence explains enough, but this blog post elaborates even more.

2) It gives me fuel for reflection and discussion. Without ideas from books to mull over, my tank would be empty.
I'm an introvert who frequently finds myself with a blank mind and tied tongue around others. For those moments when I'm able to engage in a fun conversation, I usually have some idea from a book to thank. Talking about something that grips my mind from stories is far easier than other small talk. I love debates and heated discussions when they're focused around fictional characters and their choices. If I didn't keep this tank topped up, I'd be very boring indeed, and wouldn't even be able to maintain this blog. (When my nephew was staying with us over the Christmas holidays, he said, 'I've never known anyone who could get so excited over fictional characters as you guys.' He meant it as a compliment and I took it as one.)

3) It provides fodder for my favourite happy pastime, daydreaming.
There are all sorts of seemingly pointless things which brighten our days. One of mine is daydreaming about fictional characters, imagining extra scenes for them, and holding further dialogues and interactions. I might be walking along, inventing many ways in which one of the characters perceives another, that might not have come out in the author's original story. People who write fan fiction do the exact same thing, but I've never been brave enough to actually put mine out into the world, and nor would I want to. My own private conjectures might not gel with others, least of all the original creator, but they amuse me no end. And they draw me out of my own head into those of others, so I feel like I'm getting a holiday from myself.

Once years ago, a friend of mine was describing how she felt challenged to give up anything related to her own fertile imagination, because she thought it was infiltrating the rest of her life like some pernicious creeper. She said, 'I make sure never to imagine anything anymore. I only live in the current moment, and focus on what's directly before me.' That astounded me. I sat there thinking, 'There's no way I could ever renounce my entire imagination.' I couldn't help thinking she was throwing the baby out with the bath water and closing up a God-given gift, but that's the subject of another reflection some other day.

4) Reading gives me flashes of truth. An author might express something in such a way that resonates with what I know in my own heart but haven't formed into an opinion yet.
Those moments are like mental High Fives with the author, who may even be long passed away. They're heady enough to make me grasp things like universal consciousness, great minds thinking alike and truth being self-evident. And without reading, I'd miss so many of these moments. Some of them are strong enough to make me say, 'Wow, yes!' out loud. 

5) Reading stories is the closest thing to magic and alchemy we've got.
I wrote a blog post about that here, so won't elaborate any further in this post.

6) Reading enables us to multiply the pleasure we get from our own life's events.
Here's a specific example to show what I mean. When I was a little girl, I loved everything to do with the Christmas season. Making tinsel wreaths at school, riding on Nipper and Nimble in the John Martins' toy department, singing Christmas carols, going to the Adelaide Christmas Pageant and meditating on the original Christmas story. You might think that would be enough for any young child, right? 

At the age of eight or nine, I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'By the Banks of Plum Creek' for the first time, and toward the end I reached a chapter where there was a surprise meeting one winter night in the church. Laura, Mary and Carrie had no idea what to expect, but Pa and Ma were smiling and winking, as were the other adults hitching up their horses and crunching over the snow. As I read, I found myself on the edge of my seat, just as anxious to find out what was going on as Laura. It turned out to be an extravagant event with a decorated Christmas tree, which the girls had never seen before. Each branch was covered with gifts for the town's children. I loved seeing it unfold, sharing the moment of pleasure that happened about 100 years earlier. It made me so cheerful, I might as well have been there.

So my point is this. Was my own Christmas good? The answer is yes, of course. Did reading about Laura and Mary's Christmas make it even better? Absolutely, because I got to rejoice over the stroke of joy that happened to them. I felt they really deserved it. In any lifetime, moments of personal joy are lovely, but limited. And since joy is such a nice thing to experience, we might as well take the chance to add somebody else's to ours. And the most reliable way of doing this at short notice is through a book. To me, it will always be one of the best ways to multiply and our joy and lift our moods.

So those are my reasons for the endless appeal of books, which I'll never grow tired of. If you're a fellow reader, do my reasons match yours? And what do you say if people ask you? 


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Becky. I can't imagine stopping any time soon, or ever 😆

  2. Hi Paula - If reading is your bone marrow, does that mean you can pass Emily Bronte on to me if I ever need a bone marrow transplant?

    You've got some great reasons there. I especially relate to the first two. If a book is well-written with three-dimensional characters, it can really help you to see why people make the choices they do. One of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read is 'The Reader' by Bernhard Schlink. It's about a dysfunctional relationship between a 15-year-old German boy and a 36-year-old female who used to be a Nazi guard. You'd think such a book would be off-putting and you'd hate the woman, but I found I could empathise with her at the end. I couldn't excuse her behaviour, but I could see how she went down that path and that redemption was possible. Definitely a book that I thought about well after the final page.

    1. Hi Nola,
      I've never heard of The Reader, but your description sounds fascinating. I can understand how it would stay in your mind. Yes, that's exactly the sort of story that proves why we feel compelled to keep reading 😊

  3. Hi Paula, I loved this post! Thank you. I have never really reflected on why I love reading so much. Your reasons are fantastic and I could relate to everyone of them. I really enjoyed your last reason about reading multiplying the pleasure we get in our own lives. So true! Now I'll have to sit down and have a good mull over other reasons why I love to read.

    1. Hi Linsey,
      I'm glad you agreed with all of those. The last reason is one of my favourites too. And if you do think of any extras, please do share.

  4. Hi Paula,
    I loved your last point especially. Wow, reading gives me the joy of others (even fictional others) to add to my own experiences. Joy + joy = lots of joy!

    1. Hi Claire,
      Yeah, sometimes our fictional friends add the most joy of all, and I'm sure you'd agree those are often the books we consider our favourites.