Why do we read?

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In her latest journal entry, Paulineee says she "can't follow someone's story without taking it on," which is partly why she goes through phases when she doesn't read much, not having the "emotional energy" for it. I find that interesting, and contrary to my own reasons FOR reading. Personally, I enjoy committing emotional energy to a book, because that temporarily redirects the emotional energy I'd otherwise be investing in my own troubles. Pauline says she needs "distraction in her leisure activities." That's one of my motivations for reading. However, I don't necessarily seek out more light-hearted distractions. Being the pessimist I am, I get impatient with "happily ever after" type stories. Books, movies, and music that attract me are often dark and disturbing in nature. My voracious appetite for reading reflects my desire to divert some of my emotional energy into something more pleasurable and less intimately consequential than private (and sometimes seemingly endless) problems or disappointments. While my preference is fiction over non-fiction, I lean towards realism, although fantasies certainly take flight in my mind fairly frequently. But, they're MY fantasies, not Barbara Cartland's, or Danielle Steele's, or even Walt Disney's (although I must admit, I'm a sucker for those classic, animated films. Go figure.) For the record - I'm not putting any of the above (or others who enjoy them) down - I'm just saying the fanciful "true love conquers all" mindset doesn't appeal to ME. In spite of all that, I DO appreciate romance; I just don't believe love is a panacea for all of life's hardships, as is indicated in the romance novel genre. That is not to say I don't EVER find satisfaction in a "happy ending," provided the events that lead up to it are plausible.

Anyway, this has got me wondering about the various reasons people read, as well as what sort of books they prefer. Besides the "escape" factor, I also love to read for the pure, physical pleasure of it. I thrill to the feel of a book in my hands, and have even been known to sniff the pages. There is a particular kind of paper I occasionally come across that has a heady fragrance to it. Aesthetically, I prefer hardcovers, despite their bulk, but, if I am going to buy a book (rather than borrow from the library or a friend,) for economical reasons, I usually wait to make the purchase until it comes out in paperback.

Favorite authors include Chaim Potok, Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Pat Conroy (talk about dysfunctional!) Some of my all-time favorite books are James Michener's The Source, Chaim Potok's The Chosen, Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, and, perhaps my favorite of them all, Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. Recently finished Tim O'Brien's excellent In the Lake of the Woods. Currently reading Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun. Would like to know what others are reading, WHY you read, and/or which books/authors have made a profound impression on you.

-- Stephanie (stevie@idsi.net), February 23, 2001


What a wonderful insight into the gift of books and the motivations you have for reading them, Stephanie!

I absolutely love to read. Have been a total bookworm since childhood. Guess it was "Mr. Pine's Mixed Up Signs" and "Where the Wild Things Are" that first roped me in. Remind me to thank my mom for that...

From there, I remember the first time I read "Where the Red Fern Grows" and crying so hard at the ending. Man, I loved that book. Also really liked the "Outsiders" because I thought Ponyboy was so cool. Heh.

As an adult, some of my favorite books have been:

Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving The Duncton Wood and The Duncton Stone series, by William Horwood Skallagrigg, by William Horwood (if you can find this book, buy it!) Kiss of God, by Marshall Ball (non fiction) Never Alone, by J. Girzone (non fiction)

I read for many reasons, mostly because I crave that feeling of being lost in a book. It is simply amazing to me that the written word can elicit such powerful emotional responses like laughter and tears. How amazing is that! I enjoy so many different types of books, from the ones listed above, to Anne Rice Vampire books, Stephen King, nonfiction books on spirituality, sports, history.

Speaking of sports, best sports book ever written: A Good Walk Spoiled. A must for anyone who enjoys Golf.

Anyhow, I think my love of reading is simply one of the greatest gifts I have at my disposal. That my wife is an avid reader is and was one of the things that makes her so attractive to me. If you are a reader, you are my friend...it's that simple.

My older brother has never read a book from cover to cover.


Amazing...what a loss!

OK, I'll stop. If you want to see what I've read very recently (need to add some more), I just started a new section to my journal called And If I Read Before I Sleep...

Thanks, Stephanie...once I got started, I realized just how much I love reading....thank you for reminding me of that.

And by the way...with writing like yours...Do you keep a journal online? If so, would love the link...and if not....WHY NOT!


-- Bob (and_if_I_die@hotmail.com), March 01, 2001.

Thank you Bob, for your kindness, and for taking the time to reply to my post. It is greatly appreciated, and I really enjoyed your contemplative response. Like you, I sense a kindred spirit in other bibliophiles. I have always been an avid reader, but never heard of Mr. Pine's Mixed Up Signs... generation gap, perhaps? For me, favorite books from my early childhood are heavy on the Dr. Seuss and, to this day, I take great pleasure in Green Eggs and Ham, Fox in Sox, etc. Having children of my own exposed me to a new world of children's literature with more modern classics like the delightful Where the Wild Things Are. Where the Red Fern Grows is a book that wrenched the hearts of my daughters, but I missed out on that particular experience myself. As an adolescent, I went through the Nancy Drew stage, but quickly outgrew that and moved on to Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, and then Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and, of course, J.D. Salinger. Although the above- mentioned authors (the British ones, at any rate) wrote about romantic involvements/entanglements, the intricate plots were not without plenty of conflict. I like my happy-endings to be hard won, and without too many descriptions of "heaving breasts," although I must admit that I like a titillating sex scene as well as the next per.. son! *wink* All I ask is that it be more "nitty gritty" than flowery.

Funny you should mention A Prayer for Owen Meany. In the days following the posting of my original message, my brain was flooded with the names of authors and books I had neglected to mention. John Irving topped the list, and A Prayer For Owen Meany is my favorite of his offerings, all of which I consider noteworthy. Like you, I must also confess to being a fan of the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles - the earlier ones, in particular. Stephen King has kept me entertained on numerous occasions, as well, when I crave a lighter read. Offhand, I can't think of any sports books that appeal to me, although I thoroughly enjoy the Quidditch matches in the Harry Potter books! Trout Fishing in America is on my list of books to read, but I'm not so sure that would qualify as a book about sports... *grin*

As for an online journal of my own, well... I consider that prospect a daunting one. My anxieties manifest themselves in whispers of "What would I write about? Do I have anything worthwhile to say, especially on a regular basis? Who would be interested in a journal written by ME? Why would anyone pay the slightest bit of attention to my babble? Would my fragile ego withstand the possible (probable?) rejection?" You know, stuff like that. Still, your generous words are very gratefully received, and helped to ease some of my insecurities. Thanks again!

-- Stephanie (stevie@idsi.net), March 01, 2001.

Oh like we (active journallers) have the answers to "what would I write about" and "do I have anything worthwhile to say?".. I often wonder why anyone reads but they do and I win in both directions.. I get to express myself to a potentially unlimited audience, and I get friendship and feedback in return.

Steph, we have been emailing daily for how many years?? I think you have PLENTY to say!

Rejection is always a possibility of course but that's a fact of life in any endeavour. You wouldn't suggest not trying something because of a possibility of failure?

The main problem I see with the idea of your having a journal is the technical aspect - but there are more viable alternatives now than when I started. I don't regret learning the rudimentary html but I had the time for it; there are several places that allow you to just type or paste stuff in a form and you're up and running.. I could even set it up or help you do it. Just say the word. I think it would be beneficial for you; but that's enough pushing and prodding for one day.

-- Pauline (p_brock@hotmail.com), March 02, 2001.

And oh yeah.. I forgot to mention.. You're not supposed to worry about whether other people will read or not. You're supposed to tell yourself you're doing it only for yourself and it's just a quirk of nature that your diary happens to be on the internet!

That may be closer to the truth in some cases, farther in others. With me it varies but the dynamics of what I have are quite different from what they would be in a private journal (which I've never managed to keep). Sometimes I'm tempted to do a real diary.. but it would have to be strictly anonymous! Too many people who know where to find me have the url for this one..

-- Pauline (p_brock@hotmail.com), March 02, 2001.

Why do I read ? I was a reading addict before I could read. Mom and Dad were both readers, books fascinated me. Pretty well my introduction to what could come in books was my Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. I would sit in Mom's lap, while she read to me and I would follow along looking at the illustrations which were a bit old fashioned even then. Both Mom and Dad were good at reading out loud, and both would read poetry out loud quite well. Books became a good teacher to an only child. I learned from what I read, even though most were fiction, there were lots of insights in them to give me clues on human behavior.

I can get deep and involved with a book I am reading whether fiction or not. Reading for 75 years would give a list of my books four million miles long -- a slight exaggeration, how about four miles ? Douglas Adams' A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe, Nichol (I think) the Milagro Bean Field War all five books of the trilogy, Lord of the Rings (Damn I can't remember the Brits name), Tony Hillerman's books, Grisham, Jonathan Kellerman and his Alex Delaware, Patricia Cornwell and her Kay Scarpetta. Just finished reading Stephen King's book on writing, which I enjoyed and admired -- both the book and himself. Mythology in all its forms and nationalities and also comparative religions, Alexis De Tocqueville's Democracy in America, The Wealth of Nations by Smith, The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer, The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, quite a few of Joseph Campbell.

I read as I can't imagine a life without printed material telling me a story, teaching me something new or refining my knowledge of something already known by me. Medical books at a level I can understand them.. . . . . any how I breathe, I read, and can't imagine stopping either any time soon.

-- Denver doug (ionoi@webtv.net), March 02, 2001.

I read Doug's post with great pleasure. The lifelong satisfaction he has derived from books is a testimony to how empowering reading to our children can be. From such a simple, yet nurturing activity, inquisitiveness and a love of learning can develop, as has been proven in Doug’s case. Why more parents don't engage in this as a nightly ritual is beyond my comprehension.

I would like to take this opportunity to include part of a private email I received in response to this thread. In reference to the comment about liking my happy endings to be hard won, a friend of mine wrote:

"That's why I prefer novels to poetry. I can only give credence to an author's profundity if it has been ''hard won" In my opinion, bold imagery is best appreciated when there is a context to it - when it has been "earned" through absorbing and compelling plot and characterization."

He said it far more eloquently than I did, so I thought it worthy of repeating, with his permission.

-- Stephanie (stevie@idsi.net), March 02, 2001.

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