Why I Read Books.

27 Oct

I really don’t think there’s much of a secret as to why people read books.  I read signs and cereal boxes and newspapers and the Internet for information.  But I read books for insight.  Insight into people.  For some reason, us humans are fascinated by other people and by realizing that we are all very much alike.  And that the random things we think and can’t express are also thought and unexpressed by others.  And some people, very good writers, are able to express those things in ways that we can identify with and we can go “Aha! That fleeting thought I couldn’t express has been eloquently shared.  And we are all the same.  Deep down, I am not crazy or odd or alone.  I am part of something that includes us all!”  

It’s the flip side of why we love reading about serial killers or psychopaths. We want to see where they differ from us, what fundamental flaw separates them from us, where they went astray. Sadly, sometimes, there is not much of a difference.  But we speculate and dig and separate anyways, until we feel comfortable that we are not like them. But that is for another post.

I read for insight.  For those “Aha” moments.  And my favorite contemporary novel, about running, has plenty of them.

For instance: “He was perhaps channeling a little of her pain and he realized for the first time something startling that everyone, every single last one of us who isn’t still a child, is carrying some kind of very heavy burden.” 

Did that resonate?  If not, try this one:

“What’s good here?” Cassidy asked.
“Well, it’s a Mexican restaurant in North Carolina, so it doesn’t really matter what you order, you’re going to get basically the same meal. The different combination platters just designate the way the items are arranged on the place. But, what you can count on is your guacamole, your Spanish rice, your refried beans, and some kind of grilled meat rolled up in some kind of starchy shell.”
“Bruce, you picked the restaurant,” Cassidy said.
“You misunderstand me, senor. I like guacamole, Spanish Rice, et cetera. It’s the number six combination dinner for me,” he said, snapping the menu shut with a flourish. “On special occasions I will order number seven. That gets you your refried beans at three o’clock on the plate.”
“But with number six?”
“High noon.”

If you’ve ever eaten at a Mexican restaurant, you should have read that with a smile on your face because it is so true.  A good writer takes everyday experiences that we all can identify with but can’t express or haven’t thought worth expressing or haven’t realized are memorable and trivial and still poignant and write about them in a way that gives us an “Aha!” moment.

Good writers are fun to read.  Good writers invite us into an experience, they don’t just spit information at us.  Would you rather be invited to swim under a waterfall or sit on a sizzling sidewalk while a sprinkler occasionally shoots water droplets at you?

I thought so.

When I read for information, or when I’m forced to read something that doesn’t interest me, I often think “how many more pages until I am done?”  And I count down each page at a time.  I cheer when the bookmark is carried forward.  But when I read for insight and identity, I get depressed nearing the end of a book.  Especially if is the last book by an author I’ve enjoyed.  Because it will never again be the first time I read that book. And I will never again receive fresh insights from that particular author.  And I begin the laborious process of finding a new author, a new flow, a new immersion experience.

I’m sure I’m not alone.


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