I have never thought about why I read. Or why anyone else does, or doesn’t. What does it even mean to read?
Reading is a skill, something learned, that allows one to interpret symbols. It is a task, requiring effort and ambition. It is a one-way exchange of information. It is technical. It is simple and difficult. It is entertaining and it is tiring. It requires little fuss. Reading is a privilege, a distraction, a necessity, a comfort, a danger, a right, a ritual, a hazard, a control. Reading is a strictly individual and personal act. It is a key, a lock, a door, to be decided by the reader as the work is processed through messy perceptual inclinations, synapses ricocheting as beliefs strengthen, falter, evolve or become extinct.
The best explanation about why we read, or why we should read, came from Stan Persky, my Philosophy teacher “…reading allows a person to become a different person than the options being offered by the culture they live in.” Reading offers the potential to connect with humanity and the world in a way that can’t occur through any other medium. Reading allows a person to borrow a different reality while still relying on the reader’s input (unlike television, which has no room for the viewer’s imagination). This transplant of point-of-view creates the basis for empathy and understanding, two things that, while I am sure we are all born with these qualities, need to be cultivated or they can be lost. Books also have the potential to expose the reader to experiences that would be difficult or dangerous, inaccessible or impossible due to social, political, economic or religious constraints. A reader’s mind cannot stay rigid or systematic; it will bend and bow, shift and reorganize to make room for new perspective, as wonderful or painful as that might be.
Apart from my explanation above, there is something more that comes with reading as well, although it seems even less tangible than what I previously discussed. I think I mainly love to read because it makes me feel connected to something bigger than myself, a feeling that does not occur often. I’m not a spiritual person, but there is a sense of the sublime when reading the right book at the right time, the one that makes you keep thinking, “just one more chapter” even though it is two in the morning and you have to be at work at seven. It always strikes me as amazing that in a little pile of stitched up, typed-on papers, a person can get so lost, so far away.
I can’t speak for everyone, but this is why I read.
*Title by Harper Lee