October 7, 2009

Why Do We Read Books? by Ali of Worducopia

I am out of the country at my sister's wedding in India with a quick stop in London on the way back! While I am gone some lovely bloggers have stopped by with guest posts! Woohoo!

Today Ali from Worducopia shares her answers on why she reads and offers you to join in on the discussion. Thanks, Ali!

Why Do We Read?

One cold January day, out of the blue, I got the following email from my sister:

don't take this the wrong way (no insult intended whatsoever):
Why do you read books?

I stared at the question, trying to decipher it. Even without the first sentence, I wasn't inclined to be insulted--it's not my big sister's style to randomly insult people, least of all me. But I was a little taken aback, as I would have been if she'd asked, "Why do you eat food?" or "Why do you go outside?" I finally managed to write:

Do you mean a) Why do I read the books that I read? As in, what motivates me to choose those particular books?or b) What motivates me to read at all?
I have a lot of answers to both questions so I want to narrow it down before I answer.

She wrote:

more like b)

I can think of multiple possible answers, but I was curious about your answer.

I read primarily to learn something, and I find with most fiction, I don't really learn anything - about myself, the world, or anybody else. So, then one might read fiction to escape into another reality, but a lot of fiction doesn't do that, nor is intended to. There are a few works of fiction that have stuck with me (i.e. Beloved, by Toni Morrison, because it was so strikingly shocking, yet real), but most fiction I forget right away. So, I ask: why do you read books?

My first thought was: Wow. Where do I even start? I've devoured books since I was a young child, and it has never occurred to me to be any other way or to ask why. Articulating the gifts that fiction gives me, to a person who doesn't feel that way, was a tall order.

OK, here's my answer, in 5 parts.

1) To experience the world through someone else's eyes. The character is made up, but the author who created the character is obviously real, so the book is like a window into how somebody else thinks.

2) To learn. Some authors put a lot of research or life experience into their books, so you can learn about another time or place even though the specific events are imaginary. Historical fiction (if it's good) is an obvious example, but another is Sherman Alexie's books--I've learned a lot about modern Native American culture, because he's Native American and puts that into his books.

3) The way certain authors put words together is as beautiful as poetry, or music, to me.

4) It's entertaining, in the same way that a movie is. I read to see what's going to happen in the book.

5) To learn how to be a better writer.

Looking over my response, it seems so bare-bones. I was trying not to gush, I think. Nine months later, I would add that I also read to connect with people--not just the folks who write the books, but the readers who recommend them to me. Is there anything quite like the feeling of someone saying, "I read that book you wrote about, and here's what I thought...?"

What about you? Can you articulate why you read? Do you have people in your life who just don't get it?

Thanks for sharing this with us, Ali! Every single answer you gave (including the extra one) is a reason I read. Opening a book is like opening a door to a new world, a new adventure, a new experience. And you never even have to get out of bed! Thank you for a great topic. I can't wait to come back and read everyone else's responses!

Be sure to come back tomorrow for another fabulous guest post! See you soon!


  1. What an awesome post, Ali! You pretty much covered the gamut as to why I read...but I would also add: To escape into another world, either a place I have always wanted to go, or a place that is new and interesting to me...and to meet the people that inhabit that world. To me GOOD fiction does that - it transports you. When I'm in the middle of a great book, the world could explode around me and I probably wouldn't notice! I also would second your last comment - talking about a book you loved with another person who also loved it is wonderful.

  2. I totally agree with all of your reasons, Ali! I think that there are so many facets to reading and it should be enjoyable and informative and it doesn't have to be both at the same time if you're only in the mood for one of those.

    To go along with your third point, I think it's a great experience just to hear a different voice than all of the ones that are around you daily.

  3. Great post Ali!!! I love it!! (And, thanks to Rebecca for having you as a guest!) I agree with everything you have just said, but I also would add that I read to relax, escape, and reduce stress! To read, you really need to sit and focus. It's forced (but very enjoyable!) relaxation!!

  4. Interesting question - and good answers! They all sound right and make sense and yet I don't think I could have come up with them on my own!

  5. Articulating is NOT one of my gifts, unfortunately. I've always wished I could say what I mean succinctly and eloquently, but alas and alas.

    I think reading fiction also allows us to stand in someone else's shoes and wonder what we would do in the same situation. In that sense, it helps build character, to choose between right and wrong in a safe setting, and to ponder what is really important to us in life.

  6. This is probably not at all a complete answer, but I love reading because it takes me out of myself. You spend all your time being you - it's lovely to get a break and be someone else for a while.

  7. Hi Ali! Great essay. I am going to mull it over and may answer the question myself. Although you are right, Why do you read? is kind of like Why do you breath?

    This would make a good Booking Through Thursday question.

  8. What a great post- your answers are all reasons for me too...but also, I read to evoke a certain mood (if that makes sense). I like to re-read a lot of books and I do it because there's a certain place & time I want to be in- sometimes that place is in the books, sometimes in the memory, often it's both.

  9. I agree, that question is like, "Why do you eat?" My little brother is not a reader and he once asked me the same thing. My answer wasn't as thought-out as yours; I said, "Because it's fun." :P


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