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Why Do We Read?

The NYT investigates:

There is no empirical answer. If there were, more books would sell as well as the “Harry Potter” series or “The Da Vinci Code.” The gestation of a true, committed reader is in some ways a magical process, shaped in part by external forces but also by a spark within the imagination. Having parents who read a lot helps, but is no guarantee. Devoted teachers and librarians can also be influential. But despite the proliferation of book groups and literary blogs, reading is ultimately a private act. “Why people read what they read is a great unknown and personal thing,” said Sara Nelson, editor in chief of the trade magazine Publishers Weekly.

I'm not sure why people keep coming back to this question like it's the meaning of life. Asking "why do you read?" is a bit like asking "why do you watch movies?" or "why do you play video games?" or "why do you have sex?"

Generally because it's fun, that's why.

In all fairness at least the article doesn't make it seem like a virtue as others are wont to do. Our culture has a tendency to lock people into patterns. If you never read, you are somehow a bad person. If you read a bit, you're a good person. If you read a lot, you're really weird. (Sorry but I remember the comments Al Gore got back in '99/'00 for saying Stendahl was his favorite author.) We like to reward moderation, I guess.

Per the usual, I really wish people could move on from rewarding types of media to rewarding the ability to critique. I don't think a steady diet of bodice-rippers is better than watching HBO. The ability to process and synthesize information is what is needed most right now. Why can't the papers go do an op-ed on that??


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