Why Do I Read?

recommendreadsI often contemplate various abstract things, such as ‘Does God pick and choose who to listen to during a disaster, like say, a tornado, and only save those he decides are worthy? Because lady A prayed and survived, but lady B prayed and did not. Lady A claims God was looking out for her–so does that mean lady B was ignored? Does he really micro-manage this way?” Or I think, “if one is not supposed to live in the past, and not worry about the future, but live for the moment, then that means one is always in limbo–I mean if the past is practically immediate, and you can’t live there, and the future is not to be dealt with yet, living in the so called minute can be nerve wracking. Am I living to my fullest this minute? What about now? And now?” Get my drift? No? Didn’t think so. My father would remind me “you think too much”.

I was having one of those contemplative moments yesterday as I started on another chapter of a book. I thought about those billions of people who do not enjoy the written word. Those who only read a book when forced by school. And I tried to come up with reasons why they hate reading. There could be a zillions reasons, so I decided to concentrate on the reasons one does read. And it occurred to me that if one reads a piece of fiction, one must have an imagination, an ability to take the scene on paper before one, and extrapolate it into a sort of reality, like the Holodeck on Star Trek, The Next Generation. In that room you could create an entire world that looked real, felt real, populated what seemed to be humans, and interact. Reading creates a sort of  Holodeck of the mind.

You also need to enjoy silence and solitude. Or just silence. One can read among others, if there are no distractions such as a cacophonous TV blasting House Hunters, a incessantly yapping dog, or a mother who recites aloud the entire newspaper article by article and expects responses to each one. A person who reads doesn’t need to check e-mail or texting every ten seconds, doesn’t need to call a friend just to find out, “what’s up” 20 minutes after the last status update. A reader can be alone with their thoughts. I know, to half the population out there, this is a foreign concept. ‘Be alone with, uh, what? Thoughts? But what would I be thinking about? I better call my best friend and find out what she believes being alone with thoughts means!’

A person who reads is adventurous. That appears contradictory, because reading is a sedentary state, unless on a treadmill, which I find miraculous–that someone can maintain concentration while running themselves to death.  By adventurous I mean able to go to places in their minds others refuse to visit. Some worlds can be downright dark and scary. And I’m not talking about books of horror or sci fi. Some of the darkest spots are within the human condition. And/or soul. Books that explore life’s difficulties require the braver of us to blaze the trails and report back that yes, one can survive the written page of that particular scenario. Readers have empathy, can relate to the characters. Those who are impervious to usual human emotions such as guilt, compassion, will not bore themselves reading about the trials and tribulations of say, Jane Eyre.

The crucial ingredient to being someone who wants to read, loves to read–attention span. One must have a good attention span to finish 300 pages. And not skimming either. No Evelyn Woods thing where one can read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica  in less that 5 minutes. And retaining what one has read is important. At least until a random number of other books have been read, and you’ve forgotten much about the plot of that particular piece.

Why do I read? For all the above reasons. I channel the souls of characters drifting from paper. I visit their environs, a cottage, a filthy Victorian street,  an ancient pyramid, western town, seaside resort, distant planet and more. I learn secrets, I understand the human condition more readily, I sympathize with the victim within a tale, feel guilt for human mistakes, root for a fledgling romance.

Those who hate to read are satisfied with what they see around them. We who read have insatiable curiosity to reach further through the written word. Are are enriched for it.