Last updated 08:49 04/12/2012
First, sincere apologies to blog readers for my lack of updates last week. I was deeply ensconced in editing my monster of a novel to submit for my Master's at uni, and was also in the process of moving house - which I'll still be doing this week.
It was while I was packing away, marvelling at the thousands of dollars I must have frittered away on books in the last decade, and wondering what the heck I was thinking when I bought that box of crayons (seriously, crayons, and I was completely sober at the time!), that I got to thinking about reading. More specifically, I'd like to enumerate the reasons why I read.
I thought it was an appropriate start to the week, and perhaps a nice way to thank the gods of literacy and art for the gift of books and storytelling.
I love this George R.R Martin quote: "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...the man who never reads lives only one." One of the most common reasons people read is to escape - whether it's into another world, someone else's head, a different city or lives entirely separate from their own. Being able to lose yourself in a story is a perfectly respectable and pleasurable way to while away the hours, whether you're soaking in a bath, lying on the couch or tanning in the sun. Escapism can also mean to get away from one's own problems for a while - hey, it's cheaper than therapy!
Literature is edifying. No one can deny that. I learn something new from every book I pick up, whether it's about life, people, animals, society or even just a new word. Okay, so not every book is going to give you valuable insight into the inner workings of the human mind, but one of the simple joys of reading is that it keeps your brain active and forces you to think in a way that watching something on a screen just doesn't. The act of reading itself, which at its most basic level means having to process words and absorb their meaning, is already stimulating enough on its own. Add to it language, lyricism and thoughtful prose, and I say forget about school - read books if you truly want to learn.
Feel connected to the world
This is a bit hippie-ish and new-agey, but let me explain. Reading makes you feel less alone because you start to realise the more books you devour, that everything you have ever felt or experienced in this world, anything you could possibly have done, no matter how evil or good, all the thoughts you've ever had - someone else did or had them before you. Fiction all comes from somewhere, yes, I know, they come from the author's imagination, but writers do not function alone. So it makes sense that readers will often stumble upon some delicious tidbit of truth in a story and experience a moment of clarity, where they realise hey, we are not alone. Which can be either a frightening thought...or not.
In a way, this ties in with learning, but a lot of times, I read because I'm curious. My curiosity can be aroused by the cover or the blurb, a good or bad review or word-of-mouth recommendation. Once I've got stuck into a book, if it's a compelling tale, then it's also curiosity that drives me forward and keeps me reading. I am most curious about people, and so the stories I enjoy are often character-driven. It's an old-fashioned concept though, that you need to divide books into plot- or character-driven stories. Most authors use a combination of both. You need some kind of plot to keep the story moving, but you also need characters whom readers can relate to. In saying that, there are always exceptions to the rule, hence why if I had to choose between plot or character, I will almost always choose a good character study over the literary equivalent of the car crash movie.
What are some of the reasons why you like to read?