Why we read

7 Jul

I have been interspersing fiction with Reading Like a Writer, a book by Francine Prose (really?). It touts itself as “a guide for people who love books and for those who want to write like them.” I’m about 30 pages short of being done.

Although it is certainly a pleasurable, self-indulgent read (who doesn’t want to read about reading? and excerpts from brilliant novelists?), I’m not sure it is groundbreaking as much as organized (into chapters such as “close reading,” “words,” sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, etc).

Anyway. Not much to say about the specifics of the book itself–aside from its brilliant structure, it relies on well-selected passages, not brilliant insights. Except: it got me thinking along a tangent that can’t really end well, especially since theorists from Plato to Nussbaum have dealt with it in one way or another. Why do we read to begin with? Escapism? To experience different worlds, in a sort of ‘reading rainbow’ that helps us better understand multiculturalism and minimizes descrimination (I’m skeptical about this one, because one can just as easily write descrimination)? Meditation? Philosophizing? Proselytizing? Who knows?

Personally, the question itself rocks a large portion of my existence. I spend a lot of time reading, and am an English major. But I still have difficulty answering it, which, I suppose, speaks to either my wishy-washiness or the multiplicity embedded into the very idea of literature itself (what is literature anyway? ha, I’ll stop myself before going there) . On a basic level, I enjoy it. I derive personal satisfaction from books. This is not a rational, metaphysical, or productive statement. More than that, the things one can learn feels nourishing. A quest to become more worldly, understand the way people think, tough dilemmas, etc, may be achieved by reading a book. But is that really true? Because it’s never some objective medium, always the writer’s take on how people think, how to deal with moral quandaries, etc. But maybe an aggregate of books, studied seamlessly over time, can get at that, more than any individual work.

Who. Knows.

See, that went nowhere for me. What do you think? Why read? After all, it’s bad for rainforests.

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2 Responses to “Why we read”

  1. justinmulwee July 7, 2009 at 7:45 pm #

    Just started a blog of my own to keep me writing constantly, and stumbled across yours while searching “writing” tags. I too am an English major, and have almost the opposite problem. I know that reading gives me ideas, develops my style, sometimes enriches me as a person, yet I find it hard to do regularly.

    Though I love writing, I often don’t feel like spending the time to read someone else’s 300 page book, even if it’s a good one. The benefits of doing so are far less tangible than the benefits of writing a page and seeing what you’ve created. It’s an absurd attitude, and an odd one for an English major but hard to shake.

    • bookishjoy July 7, 2009 at 11:29 pm #

      Hello! That’s interesting. Yep, I’m completely the opposite. I feel more comfortable reading (or writing about reading) than writing creatively. I always find myself at a loss for a subject, then get discouraged. Then I go read some more, waiting for inspiration, or osmosis of technical skill. Basically: 300 authored pages get my juices flowing more than a blank page ever could.
      Also, where is your blog?

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