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 not. I 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?