I thought before I return to book reviews I would try to sum up the past couple of posts, albeit in a rather circuitous fashion, by asking this question:
Why do you read?
I ask this because books – or their electronic counterparts – have a lot of competition in this the early twenty-first century. You can watch TV. Movies. You can go to poetry slams and hear verse recited and, often, acted out. You can listen to audio books on those long commutes. And on an on.
So what do you require in order to read? First you have to carve out some time, maybe an hour during late afternoon, or in bed, just before going to sleep. Then you have to have a reading preference: Mystery? Suspense? A book of essays? Celebrity biography? Literary fiction? Romance novels? Young adult books? Self help? Spiritual?
And finally there’s what you hope to gain from reading a given book. In other words, with last page turned, are you glad you read it? Are you disappointed? Are your preconceived notions of the subject matter challenged? Are you entertained?
Maybe these questions are overwhelming, so let me use my own reading habits as an example.
I read fiction, love it, in fact. I love the author’s wordplay, the well-turned phrases. I love to experience far away places and people, whether these places and people are fictional or real.
I like to challenge my cultural predispositions, and so I’ll occasionally turn to history, to biographies, even at times to modern pop culture.
But why do that? It might seem I’m making work of reading books, but that’s not the way I see my own reading impulses. it’s hard to have a perspective on the cultural framework you live within – sort of like not being able to see the forest for the trees. If, as Robert Frost might have put it, I’m to be comfortable in my harness, shouldn’t I have an unvarnished perspective on my culture? Shouldn’t I learn what it takes to settle comfortably into my proper place in family, community, society, without misconceptions and delusions?
Books can do that. And you don’t have to read the most high minded literary works in order to keep you turning pages, to have you reach eagerly for another book when the one in your hand is done. Books inform, they inspire, they entertain. If you want these things in your live, indeed, NEED them, then read!