Why Read?

A question I am about to wrestle with in class:

Why the heck do we read?

While we all know it’s important to be able to comprehend the symbols we call letters, why should we read outside of school?  What is it accomplishing for us to read all of these old, archaic books by people who have been dead for centuries?  Are there good reasons for continuing to read Dracula and Jane Eyre, or are we just afraid to start reading newer, more ‘exciting’ books?

 While I am certainly looking for more answers (thus, asking for your feedback, whoever you may be), I quote renowned literary critic, Harold Bloom:

“The deepest motive for reading has to be the quest for wisdom” (Where Shall Wisdom Be Found).

To encounter and engage new ideas, and to let one’s own ideas be challenged and revised – in other words, to be affected intellecutally and emotionally – this is why we read.

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2 responses to “Why Read?

  • lisamm

    I think you answered your own question!

  • janomac

    As a teacher, this question comes up extremely frequently in my classes – from freshmen through seniors (high school). I have given a great deal of thought to how to “explain” the need for reading, but with every “reason” I offer, I am answered with excuses or with counter-reasons. So I must ask:
    “Why do *I* read?”
    I read:
    1. I read because there is some information I desire to learn that is available in no other media format; i.e. visually, (movies & video), through listening (lectures, radio, podcasts, etc.), or through direct interaction. Some information is too new to be in visual or auditory media. Some is skipped by the web news services.
    Even when other forms are available, sometimes reading is just plain faster and easier! By the time I find and load up the DVD, queue up the right spot on the DVD and watch something that *might* offer an explanation for something, an instruction for how to do something, or describe a particular event or place, I can have already opened the book, found the entry, and read the material several times – checking for understanding.

    2. I read because reading is the closest thing I have to interacting with the authors. Some things I read demand intellectual interactivity – a sort of “give and take” between the reader and the text (or the author). Good authors draw you in and make you ask questions…and the best ones tend to surprise you when they anticipate your questions or objections and answer your questions in a logically presented and orderly fashion. I am astounded by the authors from over a thousand years ago that can still do that to me!

    3. I read because humans have developed and adapted language and text for many thousands of years for the express purpose of communicating what has been learned with the (at the time of writing) future generations. Why would would I ignore the experiences and learning of the past when it could save me time, money, and many, many heartaches?!

    4. I read because it allows me to focus on one thing and, sometimes, to escape the busy world around me. Even when reading a textbook, I can disappear from my surroundings for a while and be “in” the text with the author. I enjoy this. I need this. It helps me cope. Trying to do the same with video or the Internet is an experience in attention deficit behavior. There are too many distractions and other things to dilute the quality of the text or dissipate the time spent trying to extract the information.

    5. I read because it gives me deep pleasure. Some reading is like the satisfaction of solving a difficult puzzle. Some reading is pure escapism and I am transported into a world that is so different than one in which I live and one that no movie can come even the slightest bit close to in immersing me. Some reading opens my mind to brand new ideas – even though some of the ideas may actually be quite ancient. Some of what I read helps me to understand myself and others around me much better and helps to make me a better person. Some words flow like gentle streams and coax you along with the flow until you are carried to a beautiful little spot where you can be alone with your thoughts. Others words rush like savage rivers and thrust you this way and that until you think you might drown – and then set you out upon an ocean where you can float and bask in your new knowledge and understanding. That is pleasure.

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