Why Do I Read?

This question has been circulating around book blogs today, so inspired by the responses of Chartroose and Becky, I decided I’m going to take a crack at it.

When I was little, I read to escape. Even at age 10, I was what you would call “discontent.” If I knew how to drive and had a car, I would high-tail it out of here; if we had more money, I would have beg my parents to send me to camp…forever. Since I didn’t have any of that, I had to be resourceful. I had a library card, the books were free, and they were a means to hide from reality. At the very least, reading was the only way I could muffle the sounds of all the fighting and door slamming that went on in my unhappy home. Stories were my brand of headphones. Stories were also my secret hiding place: I could be physically present, but all I need do was open a book, and I’m transported into a more pleasant world.

When I got older, I read to keep myself out of the trailer park. Okay, I didn’t really grow up in a trailer park, but my dingy tract home was two blocks next to two trailer parks and a morning stroll away from a giant oil refinery. At 5:00 am on the dot, the oil refinery emitted a cloud of black hydrocarbon saturated fumes and my brain cells died a little before my first bowl of Lucky Charms. This wasn’t exactly Blueblood Lane here. So I made the phrase “keeping yourself out of the trailer park” because when I was a teen, those were my exact goals. I wanted to be a better person, a cultured person, an intelligent person, an articulate person, an Austen heroine. Class of a kind was what I was after and God help me, I wanted to be Elizabeth Bennett, not because of the obvious Mr. Darcy romance factor, but because Elizabeth Bennett was a better person than me. I thought that if I read enough books about those types of heroines, I might absorb some of their greatness—I might shape myself into their image and grow up to be like them.

Now, I read more ravenously than before. This is hard to explain, but I feel like I’m trying to find an answer to a question that eludes even me. I don’t know what I’m looking for. All I know is that I’m confused and scared and I can’t stop reading. I go through roughly 3-4 books a week and I’m on the constant lookout for new books. I’m living my life one novel at a time, collecting stories as I go. Intuition tells me all this reading has a purpose. Far be it for me to question my intuition…

Reading makes life beautiful. It makes me more attune to the world around me and more likely to see beauty in the bleakest surroundings and single out redeemable features in even the most unlikable people.

Reading also makes me feel beautiful. When I look in the mirror, I see all the stories that I’ve read in my life etched in my features. My face seems to glow and sometimes I feel almost iridescent…as if all the images and ideas I’ve encountered are illuminating me from within.


12 thoughts on “Why Do I Read?”

  1. The iridescent thing…
    Sometimes its like surfacing just before you pass out. I need decompression time after some stories. Time to reenter the “real world”, to settle back into my own life. Sometimes for weeks after I will listen for the voices of those in the book, look for their faces.
    I like to be immersed in books, fully, and I have a hard time with stand alone novels because I don’t have enough time to be absorbed into them.
    So, the etched in my features thing…

  2. This is a great post! And I totally agree with what chickenbetty said about needing decompression time. Sometimes after I read a book, I’m hardly aware of anything I’m doing for days because I still haven’t left that realm of imagination yet.

  3. Abstract thought is what makes human beings special. It is all that separates us from the biological world, so read on young lady.

    I have nothing against folks who work hard at manual labor, but as a young man I read to escape working at the cardboard box factory. I am glad I did.

    Now I read to try and avoid getting old too quick. Like excercise, I feel better when I read, too.

    Dr. Tom Bibey

  4. Lovely post. Do you write at all? There is certainly something to be said for book immersion though. While I would never say a book is easier than reality (usually I find it’s not) there is a lovely element of escapism.

  5. What a beautiful post! And what a difficult question, I don’t think I can answer that. I just can’t stop reading….I must carry on.

  6. Chickenbetty, lisamm, mems, drtombibey, bookchronicle, ana, chartroose:

    Thanks for the encouraging comments! I too have a difficult time re-entering reality after I finish a good book. I must confess that I actually prefer the fictional world in books to the real world. Reading gives me hope. I don’t know if that makes sense, but you can only go to the mall so many times before you start pondering the meaning of life. That’s probably why when there is a long time interval between finishing one book and beginning another, I feel the angst coming. Remember my “nothing to read week”? I was climbing the walls! That’s why even when I have a stack of books, I’m always on the look-out for another stack. I won’t be caught without a book!

    To answer some of your inquiries on if I write: yes, I do. I write for this blog, I write in my journal, and I also write creatively, i.e. novel (4 days a week for at least 2 hours a day, which is not enough discipline). And guess what! I’m participating in NaNoWriMo! Maybe I’m hard on myself and I think that most of the time, I write copious pages of crap, but sometimes, there are a few gems within all that crap. When I was in high school, I wrote even crappier stories which I thought were good at the time, but I guess that shows how I’ve grown. The rewarding part of writing is you get to see how much you’ve improved. That being said, if I look back at my blog archives to say, August 2007, I’d say I blogged copious web pages of crap too.

  7. This is a beautiful post. I can relate concerning the escapism that reading provides (after sitting a long day at the office staring at mind numbing statistics, reading provides all the adventure and wonder that sometimes eludes us in life)…

    Have you ever seen the show Pushing Daisies? In the pilot episode, “Chuck” (Charlotte) is forced to live with her two protective aunts, and there is this wonderful artistic sequence where she reads to live the adventures that she could not live herself. While she is reading on the couch, the bookshelves behind her grow, and grow, and grow πŸ™‚

  8. It’s been a long time since I last read your blog (it’s been a long time since I have done anything for that matter) and all I can say is, I am glad!

    It’s been said before but I have to say it…there’s something beautiful about about the way you have written here…a kind of flow to be precise.

    And importantly you made me think (I can just hear my professors heave a collective sigh of relief πŸ™‚

    I really truly have never thought as to ‘Why I read?’ Interesting little quirk to ponder out!

  9. “Reading makes life beautiful. It makes me more attune to the world around me and more likely to see beauty in the bleakest surroundings and single out redeemable features in even the most unlikable people.”

    Amen! I couldn’t agree more. πŸ˜‰

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