Just after Christmas the Evil Mastermind had a post called “Do Write and Fear Naught,” about why he writes. His reasons and mine are much different and I thought discussing those differences would make a good post some day. (These differences are the reason why he writes fiction and it’s doubtful I ever will.) This subject immediately went on my subjects-for-posts-when-you’re-out-of-ideas list. This was one of those times. I saw that idea and, as often happens, my brain connected it with a couple of recent thoughts, and I was off on a tangent. My role at IU is more one of a reader than any ability to string words together, why not a post about why I read? As much as I like to think otherwise, it isn’t all about me, but perhaps it will trigger some thoughts about the range of readers and what they’re looking for in their reading experience. As an author hoping to connect with readers it would be valuable to ask yourself a few questions. What do you hope the reader will get out of your book? Does it provide it? Is this something readers are looking for?
I recently did a guest post for a friend’s new website where I explored how I’d changed as a reader over time. If we eliminate reading with a specific learning objective (most non-fiction) and concentrate on fiction and some narrative non-fiction, my primary reasons for reading have been for entertainment and escape. I’m sure in my earliest years of reading that I was getting more out of some books, which taught me lessons about the wider world, but I doubt I was aware of this nor that I could have articulated why I read beyond saying it was fun.
If we explore entertainment and escape, these can come in many different forms, often depending on genre. Thrillers or suspense novels provide vicarious thrills, allowing you to escape your mundane world and get a kick of adrenaline without actually taking a risk. It’s a lot cheaper than skydiving and you don’t have to worry whether the chute will open. (From experience I can tell you that it also lasts a lot longer.) Depending on the book, a mystery might do the same. In addition, it will exercise your mind as you try to put the clues together and solve the crime before the fictional detective does. Fantasy and science fiction put you in worlds that often show little resemblance to the one we live in. You can’t get much more escapist than that. Travel narratives allow me to visit places I may never have a chance to see in real life. Romance is often entertaining as the hero and heroine almost always do something to mess up their relationship before finally getting it right. The EM won’t let me talk about erotica, but I’d guess there are vicarious thrills involved in that genre, too.
But over time I’ve become aware of a few additional things I get from reading and these have become as important to me as the more obvious benefits. One of these is being exposed to and learning a little about new subjects. This could be a hobby (Morgan Talbot’s mystery, First to Find, introduced me to geocaching, something I was only vaguely familiar with before). It might be a sport (I’ve read numerous “armchair mountaineer” books which have given me an appreciation of the skills and logistics of mountain climbing). I’ve also learned about several different occupations,. These range from the obvious (attorneys in legal thrillers or law enforcement in police procedurals) to the less obvious (new Indies Unlimited contributor Mark Jacob’s book Pascal’s Wager gives you a peek into the world of a professional poker player). But the biggest benefit I’ve found has been putting me into the position of people much different than myself. I believe this has helped me understand others better as I absorb their different ways of viewing the world and reacting to life situations. I’ll never be an abused child, but by reading Melinda Clayton’s Appalachian Justice I have a better understanding of what one might go through. Romance and Chick-Lit give me hints about the differences in how women and men think. Given the right book, I can gain a better understanding of people in every situation from anywhere in the world.
How about you? Why do you read and what do you get out of it?
8 thoughts on “Why I Read”
Good reasons, all. Reasons for reading are as individual and personal as they are for writing. I’ll admit to a bit of most of those, at least at some point in my life. Sadly, I have little time to read any more so am becoming more selective.
Al, very thoughtful post. I think your last point says it all; reading about others and their situations can give us a view into their inner lives and (hopefully) some empathy for their struggles. We’re so fortunate in our modern societies that it’s easy to forget that others do not have it so good, so reading about different lives, cultures, societies can help remind us (1) about the hardships others face and (2) to be grateful for what we have. Thanks for posting.
My 97-year-old mother used to read up to four books a week, and still reads, albeit far fewer now. She always said one can get something out of every book. I have found that, although there is little time for reading, my memory and imagination is constantly jogged from reading different genres and leads to more research and better informed writing.
I used to read for pure entertainment, then I started to write my own books, and devoured dozens of books about the craft of writing and other books recommended for writers. Now I’m back to reading for pleasure again (although the technical writing books were also a pleasure) More and more I realize that reading fiction equates to writing better fiction. There are so many inspiring authors. But I’m selective. I sometimes prefer to reread my favorites to hear the rhythms in the words even though I know the story. Lovely.
A great many years ago I read an amazing sci-fi book called Left Hand of Darkness. It changed the way I viewed the world, and it changed the way I looked at fiction. It taught me that fiction, done well, can /persuade/. That is its power. Ever since then I’ve looked for novels that open doors in my mind by being just a little more than pure entertainment. When I find them I feel as if I’ve discovered gold. One day when I’m much better at my craft than I am now, I hope someone, somewhere will read something I’ve written, and feel the same way.
The gifts of reading are… oh, far too many to list; however I can probably sum up by saying, ‘A good book clarifies things to me about myself I hadn’t previously realised.’
Excellent post, Al, thank you.
Enjoyed your thoughts on this subject, Al. I think for me, the core reason why I read the books I read is because I don’t want to just know. I want to try to understand.
Excellent post, Al! I read to escape, to try to see the world through someone else’s eyes, to further my education as a writer, to discover new things about myself and other people. I can’t imagine not reading.
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