In Which I Ponder Why I Read

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing.

~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I’m not like Scout Finch.  It didn’t take a stern teacher forbidding me from reading to convince me that I loved to read.  I think that, on some level, I’ve always known I loved to read.  I love turning pages and getting lost in a story.  I love cheering for characters and even crying for them.  (Yes, fictional people, and no, I don’t think that’s weird.)  I’m not even going to get into why I love to read… I’m sure it goes much too far back into my childhood for me to even begin to mine the depths of where my love for books and words and stories comes from.

But lately I’ve been thinking about a related subject: why I read.  That is, why I take time out of my day, every day – and yes, I do read for pleasure every single day of my life – to absorb myself into a book.  There are so many reasons, and some of them contradict.  But they’re all true, maybe not all at the same times, but at some time or another.

~I read to escape.  Sometimes life gets overwhelming.  This past fall and winter were a very hard time for me, for reasons I won’t get into here.  And I can honestly say I don’t know how I would have gotten through it without books.  I sought out books that would transport me far, far away from the ugly stuff that was getting me down.  I read The Magicians and The Magician King, The Night Circus, and Wildwood – all fantastical, magical journeys.  I read Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse, two of my favorite English writers, each of whom can make me laugh and transport me to a gentler time and place.  I read The Sweet Life in Paris, walked the boulevards and tasted the croissants and hot chocolate with David Lebovitz.  These books all served a purpose – they took me away from the here and now.  I’ve always been someone who can sink into a book and completely tune out everything that is happening around me.  Sometimes I really need that escapism.

~I read to connect.  Kind of the opposite of escaping, right?  But I also read because I love to connect with others over a good book.  I can happily chat about books for hours with R or my mom, and since I discovered book blogs I’ve found a whole new level of connection that comes with being a reader.  I like to hear what others are reading, whether they liked a particular book, whether I might like it.  And I like to share my own opinions about what I’m reading.  There are times, sure, when I just want to check out of reality and books are wonderful for that.  But I always come back – eventually – and I want to talk about my adventures on the page.  So I read for that connection to others.

~I read for the words.  Sometimes I’ll be making my merry way through a book and just get blindsided by a completely gorgeous phrase or passage.  Like, for instance, the comparison of The Painted Veil‘s Mother Superior to a land of “tawny heights and windswept spaces” that just knocked me sideways.  I’ll read book after book in search of phrases like that.  Once you have one hit of prose that’s like poetry, you’ll always be looking for more.

~I read for the characters.  Specifically, for the ones who become my friends.  Like Anne Shirley and Emily Byrd Starr, Mary Lennox, Harry Potter, Lizzy Bennet, Bertie Wooster, Vicky Austin, Cassandra Mortmain, Flora Poste… I read to meet these friends and then I re-read to visit them again.  If I ever stopped reading, I would miss them.  (Again, yes, fictional people, and again, no, I don’t think that’s weird.)

~I read because I can’t notI guess in that way, I am like Scout Finch.  I’ve had times in my life when I’ve been too busy to read for fun – during finals season in college and law school come to mind, and Bar summer too.  And I invariably get itchy to pick up a book again as soon as possible.  If I don’t read every day, I get cranky.  If I go too long without reading, I go bananas.  Books are as necessary to me as food and water.  I have to turn pages if I want to survive.

Why do you read?

12 thoughts on “In Which I Ponder Why I Read

  1. There are many reasons that I read. I read for escapism, mostly. Sometimes I read certain books because I’ve already read one by that author and am curious to see what else he or she has produced. Sometimes I read because someone recommends that book to me thinking I would like it. I also read to remember where I’ve traveled. I find it fun when authors like David Baldacci or Barbara Michaels use locations that I know well. It’s what I call the “Hey! I’ve been there!” syndrome.

    Other times, I read the book because I’ve seen the movie and want to find out how the book compares to it. Like you, reading is not just a pastime but a passion and I like sharing my love of books and writers through my blog.

    • Ooooh, the travel one is good – I do that too. I love to “revisit” places I’ve been through books. Peter Mayle’s Provence books are great for that!

  2. Of course it is not weird to miss fictional characters when they are not around, or cry for them! 🙂 I do that too! 😀

    I read for pretty much the same reasons as yours. I have always read, ever since I was a kid, and don’t know how not to. I get cranky when I don’t read too. 🙂

    I also read for the way it transports me into the minds of people I might have never met in real life. I read for the way I get transported to beautiful lands, which I might or might not have the chance to visit in my life. I read because it makes me happy and keeps me sane.

  3. I read for all the same reasons you do (which is one reason we’re friends!). Mostly I read because I can’t not – the same way I write because I can’t not. And the characters. So many of my friends live inside my favorite books.

  4. One of my favorite writers EVER is Pico Iyer – he writes a lot about travel and the increasingly international world – and there are so many wonderful phrases in his work that my copies are always full of earmarked pages I go back to when I need that hit of purely beautiful language. I also just devoured Call the Midwife (while traveling to London- creepy!) which seems like it would suit your English travels!

    • Ooh, thanks for the recommendation! I will definitely check out his work. I’m always up for finding some new Anglophile literature with great writing to discover!

  5. Pingback: Comfort Reading | Covered In Flour

  6. Pingback: Repost: Comfort Reading | Covered In Flour

  7. This was just what I needed to read today. I am also going through a tough few weeks and without books and some escapism I would be lost. Thank you for sharing

    • Hi Nidhi – I’m glad that you found the post and that it helped you. I hope things get better for you and, in the meantime, that you are able to lean on some great books.

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