Tag Archives: why people read

There’s No Answer To the Question – Why Read?

Still plugging my way through NaNoWriMo (so far on track, by the way, thanks for asking), so it’s another shorter post this week! It follows up nicely to last week’s post on Neil Gaiman’s opinion on the value of reading, actually. Sure, why not fight this argument out some more? We all know reading is valuable, but it’s ironically hard to put into words why.

The value of fiction, Gaiman says, is – it’s a gateway drug to reading, and a way to build empathy skills. Now, here’s another perspective on reading from Mark O’Connell, who argues against using the ‘empathy’ argument too much. Don’t tie reading straight to making you a better person, O’Connell argues, as if reading a chunk of the work of some approved literary genius every day would eventually cause your interpersonal skills to go off the charts. Readers love hearing about scientific studies that ‘prove’ reading does actually increase empathy. But even if there was no noticeable, objective, ‘scientific’ proof that reading made you a better person, would it still be worth doing?

It would be, O’Connell argues.

“I don’t know whether all those boxes full of books have made me any kind of better person; I don’t know whether they’ve made me kinder and more perceptive, or whether they’ve made me more introspective and detached and self-absorbed. Most likely it’s some combination of all these characteristic, perhaps canceling each other out. But I do know that I wouldn’t want to be without those books or my having read them, and that their importance to me is mostly unrelated to any power they might have to make me a more considerate person.”

Here’s where I land as well. I think I am more empathetic because I read. I was never very good at reading other people’s emotions, but books have provided me a way to see inside of other people’s heads. Still, that truly is not the first reason I read. That’s not the first thing I think of when people ask me why I like books. It’s more like a side benefit.

So what is the right answer to the question, why read? Maybe there isn’t one. An answer that can easily encompass everything reading actually means to us readers, and that can actually communicate to non-readers and convince them of reading’s value – well, maybe translating that into a couple sentences, a paragraph, or even a whole article is just too much to ask.

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Filed under Bookish Thoughts

Why You Read, Why I Write:

The Reader. {{PD-US}}

“To some degree, we thrust ourselves into the hands of a storyteller, trusting that he will deliver us safely from a daydream that swiftly turns into a nightmare.” (The Passive Voice, quoting David Farland)

What should stories do – teach us something about reality, or allow us to escape from reality? Those that are more literary scoff at clichéd, formulaic endings, yet readers still snatch them up. What exactly is it we (since I include myself under ‘readers’) are looking for in stories? Not something unexpected, or you’d think romantic comedies would go out of business.

Obviously, all writers would like to know why readers read. It’s like the magic formula for turning lead (your writing) into gold (money). That’s why this particular post from The Passive Voice (summarizing from David Farland) intrigued me. “Why People Read.” Hmmm, wouldn’t we all like to know?

One of Farland’s main ideas is that reading is some sort of emotional catharsis that enables us to deal with the unpredictability and painfulness of life. See the above quote – we put ourselves through the emotional experiences of characters because we trust the authors. (Could actually explain why I feel cheated when authors put their characters through torment, and then never rescue them at the end.) We trust the author to resolve the situation in a way that real life almost never does:

“In short, those “trashy” genre stories that my writing teachers didn’t want me to read—the romances, fantasy, westerns, and so on – sell so well precisely because the audience does know within certain parameters how the story will end.” (quoting Farland again). We trust the authors to follow the script.

Which brings me to why I write. I think one of the reasons (and not the only one, mind you) is because through writing I can control things. Things will turn out how they should, rather than not making sense, like life does. I have far more time to think about each step, measure my words, and plot out the consequences of every possibility. When was the last time life allowed you to do that?

We all have to live in the real world. And I do, despite escaping into imaginary ones on a regular basis. But we all have different ways to cope with whatever life throws at us.


What about you – why do you read?


Filed under On Writing