I was sitting in class today, listening to my professor explaining the importance of authorship and reception in literature. In this class, we study the birth of the English Novel, and its evolution throughout the 18th century; a very interesting class, which poses the question: why do we read novels?
I can only answer for myself.
I have always been a dreamer. I would find myself flying over the clouds or fighting a battle in my mind during school, so much that sometimes the teacher would have to call me out on it. When I discovered books, I understood that I could flee the material world. I could hide between the pages and immerge myself in someone else’s story.
I think we read books because we like to be deceived in the belief that magic exists. When I was little I read about fairies, witches and dragons because a part of me wished magic was real. Yes, I was one of those kids who built a wand from a tree branch. The exhilaration I get when I read about a dragon slayer, or a trained assassin makes me forget about all joys and sorrows, because in that moment I cease to be in this world, and I start being somewhere else. My sensitivity lets me get completely emotionally involved with the characters and their destiny, as if they were real people. That is why, if a book is good, when it ends it takes some time for me to recover from it.
I will try to outline 8 main reasons for why we read:
- Escapism: this is the most obvious one, which I already mentioned above. We try to escape our everyday life and live the magical adventures we won’t be able to live in the future.
- Wanderlust: yes, I think the two elements are intertwined. When you read you are automatically traveling. I have been in so many places through books, a personal favorite of mine being Hogwarts.
- Therapy: reading is sometimes therapeutic. When the bustle of the everyday life crowds your thoughts, or when you feel lonely and sometimes sad, reading a book works as a suppressor for those emotions, taking your mind to a completely different place.
- Catharsis: when we read we sometimes have cathartic experiences. Being social animals, we are forced to suppress our impulses and conform to the norm; we have to follow rules, they are necessary to a peaceful living. At the same time we might be blinded by rage or passion: that is when a good book comes handy. Having a heroine that beats the crap out of an enemy might give you that cathartic experience that helps you liberate all of those violent emotions.
- Understanding: reading about hundreds of different people and experiences makes us understand what we really want. It is inevitable to react to a scene: “I would have done the same” or, “I would have done something completely different”. These choices that we make when we read make us understand something about ourselves and about others.
- Reflection: each story is a reflection of a particular situation in real life, and a reflection of humanity. No matter how many talking animals and magical realms there are in a book, the core is always human, because the voice that recounts those stories is human. The compassion we find in a science fiction novel is the same type of compassion that moves us everyday.
- Ethics: as Oscar Wilde said, “there is no such a thing as a moral or an immoral book”. I would quite agree with him. At the same time, the lesson learned always depends on the personal ethical system of the individual. We understand that killing someone is wrong: but sometimes, when books talk about this matter, they take it to an extreme. Was it right to kill the bad guy? Is it right to kill a despot who has taken thousands of lives? These are matters that we face every time we read.
- Entertainment: we also read because it is undeniably entertaining. We laugh, we cry, we scream, we get upset, we gasp, we hide. It is entertaining to always be somewhere new and always meet new people.
So this is it, these are some of the reasons why I love to read so much. We love to read because we like to disappear and reappear at the same time, and at the end of the day, because we are romantics at heart, even though we do not want to admit it aloud.
If you have any other reasons why you love to read, please let me know in the comments.
Until next time!