Why I Read

Cartoon by Michael Crawford for The New Yorker

I tend to shutdown pretty quickly in a conversation if a person tells me that she or he doesn’t read books. I don’t understand this at all. I was raised by two bibliophiles, one a librarian, who encouraged my brother and me to read non-stop. I almost always have a book on me, in case of traffic, or cancelled plans, or annoying people at a bar when you just want to drink your drink. Books are an immense part of my life, and I end up feeling sad when people aren’t jazzed about reading.

I would rather read a real book than read on something electronic; I like that a book is just one thing, and doesn’t have the distraction of apps and the Internet and whatever else. I also love all the decisions that went into that book, beyond the letters on the page. Is it hardback? What’s the font? Are the edges of the pages beveled? Is the binding stitched or glued? Is the book heavy? Will it fit in my current bag or should I size up or down to accommodate whatever I’m reading?

I like taking time, especially at the end of the day, to read. I find it helps my mind slow down and focus on what’s at hand, while at the same time allowing me to use my imagination. Sure, characters have descriptions, but you, as the reader, always get to take some creative liberty. “Tall, dark, and handsome” means very different things to different people in different contexts, and books allow each reader to have her or his own vision.

Many people have been credited with saying “we read to know we are not alone,” but regardless of the quote’s origins, it stands true in my life. Reading about others’ experiences, whether they are fact or fiction, can be grounding and heartening. Seeing a bit of my own struggle, joy, heartache, and excitement in someone else is a bolstering feeling. When I am sad or angry or upset, feeling frustrated or lonely, there’s always a book that makes me feel better. And even if they don’t change my mood completely, books help me feel like I always have friends with me, and that’s never a bad thing.


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