Story tellers have been honored since the beginning of human history – picture our early ancestors sitting around a fire being entertained and enlightened.
Reading is such a pleasurable pursuit I could read for hours and sometimes do – ah but “had we but world enough, and time1”. No one ever tells a kid to get their nose out of a book (do they?). This seems too good to be true –that reading is not even a pleasure we need to feel guilty about indulging.
I’ve often wondered why reading is praised as an intellectual pursuit while watching TV is generally considered a waste of time – not that I don’t agree in general – but mostly for the self-serving reason that I love to read. However I have learned plenty from watching TV. There are the nature programs, the History channel and Masterpiece Theatre (enhances my knowledge of European history) and – I admit – pure mindless escapism. And yet reading wins out.
The only criticism I can think of is that reading is a solitary pursuit, but even that can be countered. Reading connects us to other people and can make us feel we are not alone in our experiences. When we finish a good story we want to share it with others – hence the ubiquitous proliferation of book clubs and online reading groups. Some like to read the best sellers list for the enjoyment of the discussion at the next party.
People read for many reasons. Books may be practical learning experiences, interesting, ethical, or just plain entertaining. They take us to other parts of the world and let us understand other cultures. Books can make us want to visit places – or just experience a place we may never have the opportunity to go to see. And of course we read for escapism and let our imaginations soar – witness the enduring popularity of JRR Tolkien’s writings.
I think perhaps the best thing about reading is that it teaches us about humanity. John Steinbeck immediately comes to mind. He taught us compassion for the wayward son who longs for acceptance in East of Eden, the retarded man in Of Mice and Men, the prostitutes and Mack the hobo in Cannery Row and the suffering immigrants from the Dust Bowl in Grapes of Wrath.
What do you enjoy reading? Why do like that genre?
How do you choose what to read next? Have you visited places because a book made you want to?
What are you reading now?
- Andrew Marvell