Why Do We Read?
For as long as I can remember…
…stories have been a big part of my life. They’ve shaped how I’ve grown up, who am I, what I do… Even before I started reading, my grandad told my stories that he’d made up. I loved them, loved the way they conjured worlds and characters and images in my head.
But why do we love stories? Why do we read?
To be entertained.
It’s probably the purest, simplest reason. We read to be entertained. Like we’d watch a movie or an episode (or ten) of our favourite TV show, we read because for an couple of hours we want to have a good time. The right writer, writing the right book, given to the right reader can be like a movie or an episode of a TV show. If a writer does their job correctly, they can pack an action movie or a thriller movie or a comedy in between the two covers of a book.
To learn something.
And this doesn’t mean it had to be a non-fiction book. Fiction, stories, can also educate. Whether that be through making a child (or an adult) understand the difference between right and wrong, teaching someone about other cultures, religions, foods etc or finding a book that helps us understand ourselves better. Books offer insight into humanity and our world, even if the characters aren’t real, even if the world we’re reading about is in the back of a wardrobe or is populated by elves, orcs and monsters. For as long as stories have existed, they have existed to teach us something. Fables, myths, all of them have some message. The tortoise and the hare, Daedalus and Icarus…
If you’re a writer, books offer a whole other level of learning. For me, reading keeps my imagination burning, keeps my head full of ideas for my own stories. But more than that, reading how other writers put their sentences together, how they write dialogue or develop character or pace a chapter all helps me better my own writing. For writers, books are like lessons, teachers, exams, lectures all rolled up into one.
Now more than ever, escaping into a different world seems like an appealing idea. When life gets a little too fast or crazy or stressful, getting away from it is what we need. Exploring a new world for a while, getting to know new people, having adventures we can’t always have in reality–there are dozens of ways a book can help us escape the world and lives we know. On the other hand, some world (cough–Westeros–) might not always be less stressful than the real one, the characters (cough–Cersei, Joffrey–cough) not always more appealing than real people, but it’s something different, something new.
To be inspired.
Maybe this applies more to writers, but books can offer motivation when someone might need it. For me, each book I read (good or bad) is like a few lumps of coal or pieces of wood on the fire of my imagination, each one stoking it a little more. If it’s a good book, it makes me want to write a good book. If it’s a bad book it makes me want to write a better book. Reading is inspiration, whether you’re a reader looking for confidence and courage like Frodo in the Lord of the Rings or a writer looking for something to emulate.
There are a dozen other reasons why we read, but I think the main four it boils down to are those above. I know I read to be entertained, to learn something, to escape and to find inspiration. And I know I’ll never stop because it works.