Why Read?

By Chris Wilcox

When looking at the question “why read?” a number of answers immediately spring to mind. I would argue however that to get a more in depth answer to the question, one would have to shave off the outer layer of the word “reading”. So, more importantly than why read, is to what purpose does reading serve? I believe that having an answer to the latter of the two will in turn answer the first. Going back to the question “why read?” I would say that there is no easy answer. Simple answers such as “because we’re bored” or “because we have to” don’t seem to cover it, though I would say that there is a common theme present in all attempts to answer the question.

Stripping reading down to it’s most basic form, we can somewhat see that it is an individual act that is used to make sense of characters and letters. These characters and letters form words which we then derive meaning from. The meaning that we derive from these words is conveying something; a message. I would actually go as far as saying that almost all words in writing contain a message. Not to say that each word itself brings some elaborate message about, but rather in looking at the words as a whole do we derive a message from it. So really reading’s purpose then is to interpret or decipher the message. This in turn means that the why behind it has to do with what a message, in the form of text, is actually doing.

A lot of information in our daily life is sent to us in the form of text. When we go to school to learn, we’re copying down notes or reading from a text book. During the course of a day, we may send text messages on our cell phones to friends. Later on when we get home we might send out emails or chat over MSN. Everything from reading about Quantum Physics to reading a flier in the newspaper is about communication. It is under this banner of communication that I believe there to be the why behind reading. Authors are always wanting to communicate to an audience through their book or short story. This way of communication ensures that it will reach a large number of people without the author having to be present to relay the message to each individual.

After breaking it down and building it back up, the question “why read?” really requires reading’s purpose to be analyzed. Of course the question is broad by default, I believe the basis to still be the same regardless of which aspect is being looked at. Communication seems to be the motivation and the why behind it all. Without there being the purpose or desire to communicate, reading would just be a pair of eye-balls staring at odd characters on a page. Having meaning behind what we’re reading really gives rise as to why we’re reading it. Only when there is an attempt to communicate through letters and words, do we find an answer to the question “why read?”.



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