Have you often asked yourself why is it that you read? Why do you read what you read? Why do we even read in the first place?
I suppose the simple answer would be for pleasure. We read because it pleases us. We read because it feels pleasurable to read. But what exactly is the nature of that pleasure? How do we define that pleasurable feeling when we read?
You see, reading helps to remove us from the structure of our lives, from the daily routine and mundane activities, the sequential habits of our day-to-day lifestyles. By reading, we are allowed to enter another time zone, travel to another country without having to leave the comfort of our own homes. The storyline, characters and plot settings occupy us, and while we read, we end up inhabiting the reality on the other side. Hence, you could say that the pleasure of reading is derived from the process of escaping our own small, limited and repetitive lives and entering an exotic place elsewhere. I’m pretty sure that’s why we read, right? I know that’s why I read.
But perhaps there is also the attraction of reserving something else for ourselves, something more private, outside the realm of the public world of relationships, family, work, stress; something that is not physically challenged by the constraints of time and self.
Why do you read? Have you given it some thought?
I know some people feel it is necessary to read because we read to see ourselves. Some of us read so we can expand our language capacity and vocabulary. Some of us read to recognise ourselves, to tell us what and how to think, how to feel and how to perceive the world. Some of us read to feel less lonely; to be and feel more connected to the greater reality of what has happened or what is happening or may happen outside that of our own direct experience. Some of us read to assure and reassure ourselves that the search for meaning is relentless and that many creative minds have made sense of it all (or maybe not). Even then, the chaotic and radical texts are bound in covers and are still structured into coherent and conceivable stories.
There are still other reasons of why people read.
The rest may read to discover the consequences of actions without having to bear any of the responsibility. The rest may read with pity and empathy; they are searching for humour, validation and catharsis. They are looking to locate common sense, unravel confusion, iron out the kinks of absurdity, and to straighten out the course of righteousness. The rest may read because they know, instinctively, that books help us live a life that is more intense than we know.
They may read because they love the language, the vivid imagination, the landscapes that the minds conjure, the cobwebs of human desire, anguish and beauty. The rest may read because it helps us to sleep and dream of different sunsets and avenues, oceans and swamps. And the rest may read because they know there is someone out there tracing a life very much like our own, or perhaps not all all alive but still recognisable at the same time, and making it a beautiful moment that is worth sharing.
Even the bestselling authors have their opinions saved for why we read. Here are a few that we might be able to relate with:
- For Galileo Galilei, reading was a way of having superhuman powers.
- For Franz Kafka, books were the axe for the frozen sea within us.
- For Carl Sagan, books were proof that humans are capable of working magic.
- For James Baldwin, books had a way to change one’s destiny.
- For Wislawa Szymborska, books stood out as our ultimate frontier of freedom.
And let’s not forget Neil Gaiman, celebrated English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and film, whose views on why we read make equally as much sense as that of the five abovementioned authors:
- Reading enlarges our lives
- There are no such thing as bad authors
- Its unparalleled ability to foster empathy
- Its ability to introduce us to different versions of the world by envisioning alternate possibilities for the way things are
Last but not least, here we have several more prolific authors and readers on why we read and the power of literature.