On Books (Why I Read)

I read because there are things I need to know. I always feel I need to know what I’m talking about. I read because if I didn’t have the knowledge and the facts to back up what I’m saying, people won’t listen, won’t care. I read because I’m always wondering. I can never know too much.

I can’t put down a book in the middle if I’m not interested in what the writer is saying, or if I don’t like the way the writer is saying it. For some reason I have to see it through to the end. I think I might miss something. A little nugget somewhere hidden in the pages. I’m not always rewarded, but sometimes I am. I recently read a book about the 1918 influenza epidemic (all 500 pages of it) because I wanted to know about it. The writing was disconnected, there was not a coherent narrative, but I needed the nuggets of information contained in the book. My brain could make sense of it afterward even if it couldn’t make sense of it in the moment. I almost put it down halfway through. I tell myself that’s ok to do, but I just can’t do it. (This reminds me of a book my grandfather had borrowed from my father. He didn’t want to read the whole thing, so he returned it with a handwritten note inside saying he only had time to gallop.)

I read because I need to know how to think about things. I read because I need some confirmation that I’m not the only crazy person in this world who thinks crazy thoughts. I read because it takes me to the recesses of my brain.

I read books so I can try to focus my mind on one thing for an extended period of time. When my kids were very small I didn’t have time to focus on any one thing for too long. So I’ve gotten in the habit of focusing for short bits of time. I’m trying to extend my attention span again (and succeeding at it) even though, with social media and getting text messages and planning out everything I have to do for everyone else my mind tends to wander.

I read so I know what is ok to do when I’m writing. I often find myself asking myself, can I do that? And, because I’m always learning something as a writer, I find that if I see someone else has also done that, then it’s ok and I can move on with a piece. I also read to find out what doesn’t work.

I read all sorts of stuff, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so enlightened as when I was in a constant state of reading children’s picture books to my littles. Children’s picture books are amazing! They communicate so much in such a small space. Through mood, the language, the style of the illustrations. I even found myself learning new things about the adult world. And about myself? Maybe. It surprises me now to see what my children do and don’t remember from those books. My daughter’s relationship with “There is a bird on my head” the very first sentence she successfully read. And still my children ask me to read to them. We have a book of myths we are slowly working our way through. Kind of a record of how people made sense of their world through time.

I read because it helps me make sense of the world. I read to get outside of myself and see how others do it too.

One thought on “On Books (Why I Read)

  1. Excellent answer! I wish my students had the natural curiosity to not approach reading as a task, but rather as a challenge.


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