Why We Read

General Interest, Opinions, Uncategorized — By on February 27, 2013 at 9:54 pm

By Teresa Francis, February 27 2013

It is the human condition to seek company, to search for purpose. We long for someone to relate to, for someone whose soul mirrors our own.

Reading always starts off simple. It starts off with a book that has a picture of an Apple with the letter A next to it. We slowly graduate to books about fairies and witches, about groups of children who sleuth and solve mysteries. It is usually at this point many voluntarily give up reading, in exchange for things that come faster and easier like television and music.  This is tragic indeed, for nothing really helps the imagination more than reading does. It is really a highly customizable version of a film where you yourself are the director with nothing but the script in your hands.

Reading fiction really is a form of escape- ways for the lonely to reimagine a world where there’s treasure to be found and magic carpet rides to fly on. We read, as C.S Lewis once said so correctly, to know we are not alone. We read when we feel devoid of sympathy and company. We read to find answers. Of course, this isn’t to say we do not read when we are happy, or surrounded by company. On the contrary- some stories are best read amongst groups of people, because stories in their very nature are meant to be heard, and shared, and discussed.

Together we search for solutions between lines of richly told tales. For grains of truth in a dystopian novel about teenagers fighting to the death. For the metaphorical resonance of a young man stuck on a boat with a tiger. Stories can take us to places our bodies do not allow us to reach. They can be aloof and funny or dark and serious, but each of them leave a small mark in the folds of our memory. We take them with us wherever we go. We find strength in some lines, feel humbled by others.

Books are records- they are nuggets of time that have been caught and capsuled in paper. That is really one of the best things about reading- when you go through something by Tolstoy or Austen, you are reading the work of a person who was surrounded by a lifestyle extraordinarily different from yours. You are reading about a societies that are more than 200 years old, and yet- you will find certain threads- the character of a person, the cruelty of another- which you can identify with. And so really what reading does is show us the slightly comic hopelessness of the human race: over and over again we make variations of the same mistakes, over and over again we are born with the same inherent flaws and shortcomings of our ancestors. And it provides us with hope.

Perhaps the most ancient and refined art of all is that of telling a story. There are images plastered over ancient caves somewhere when ages ago, someone wanted something important to be remembered. We are all writers, even if we don’t know it. Simple truths can be put down on paper and seem resplendent, especially when compared to their spoken counterparts. It’s why a movie can never really be as effective as its book, because some things are better said quietly, with only one’s mind as one’s witness.

We do not give as much importance to fiction as we should any more. We underestimate its power to heal, which is a terribly sad thing. We are physically bound to where we are, but reading cuts those chains loose, at least temporarily.   

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

― Mark Twain

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