Why Do We Read? – A Long-Winded Answer

Why do we read?Pretty much as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved to read. I remember rereading the beginning of Danny and the Dinosaur every night before bed, sure that I’d finally make it to the end of the book before falling asleep some day. I would spend hours of my summer vacation, when I got a little older, reading Lemony Snicket‘s Series of Unfortunate Events. And it’s a habit that I still haven’t broken, my Christmas list comprising almost entirely of items sold at Barnes and Noble.

And I remember my step-brother teasing me, saying, “Why do you even like reading anyway? It’s so borrrring.”

I always answered quickly with something like, “I don’t know. It’s fun,” – and then I probably stuck out my tongue at him and proceeded to read to my geeky heart’s content.

But it’s not a totally unfounded question when you really think about it. Why do people read? Why is it something that is more valuable than movies or TV?

Some would say it’s not, but those people probably aren’t looking up literary blogs or reading this post. So let’s rule that argument out for now. (Although, I will post later about why us book people shouldn’t simply disregard TV in being important, in an admittedly different way, than ~Literature~ is.)

One reason people still read, I think, is a nostalgia. Human beings like to remember that we aren’t isolated in time from the past – we like to think about our ancestors, and read the stories our family members have always read. We remember history – personal, national, and even world-wide – because we like to feel anchored in time, among other human beings, tucked away in our own present, with those behind and in front of us keeping us cozy.

We read the classics, not necessarily because we like to decode old English (although, I have to admit, it can be a little fun sometimes. Or am I alone in that?) but because we like to remember that even Shakespeare thought “Yo Mama” jokes were funny. We think of those who preceded us as having a wisdom, and we hope to get some of that through reading the same stories they read.

The second reason is that reading is a window into another world, the way visual media can’t be, because the act of reading happens in your own mind. It simultaneously is a consuming act – of taking in the story – and a creative one – of making the story come to life in your own thoughts. Reading is both personal and shared, which is why the discussions are so interesting – everyone brings something vastly different to the table.

You can read a book, like The God of Small Things, but imagine Velutha entirely differently than I might. (Although, those chocolate bar abs are a hard thing to un-imagine. Yum.) But that’s why the movie versions of books are never right – because they couldn’t possibly be. Every person’s reading of a novel is so unique, vague in some things and oddly specific in others, that no movie would ever capture it.

So why do we read?

I think because we have to.

We need to feel connected to other human beings – those who have died hundreds of years ago, and those who are alive now. We want to learn something from people who live in the same state as us, and those who live on the other side of the world.

We read to enrich our world view, to understand others, and to try to understand ourselves.

We read because it makes us better, more empathetic people.

I read because “I don’t know” and I read because “it’s fun,” and I will continue to stick my tongue out and read to my geeky heart’s content.

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Why do you read? Tell me in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Why Do We Read? – A Long-Winded Answer”

  1. I’ve never been a big fan of reading, but I’ve always wished I was. I struggled through almost every book in high school cause I thought it so boring. Maybe I wasn’t reading the right stuff? I feel like watching a movie is so much faster and easier to do.

    1. Yeah, it depends what you’re looking for, I think. Watching movies can give a more immediate satisfaction and is more relaxing in some ways but you get a deeper understanding of people and the big idea questions when reading – at least to me. And finding the right book is always a challenge, but sometimes just going to a book store and browsing can help you find a book that works for you. 🙂

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