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Library General Why do we read?
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Why do we read?
I read a sad book this weekend. I read it really quick. I was at the beach. At night I walked down to the water and listened to the waves hit. They were small, the tide was out. I wasn't thinking much about anything except how quiet it was.

What do we take on when we read? The world? More of ourselves?

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.

The book I read at the beach was sad and sentimental but it wasn't its sadness I took on. Well maybe I did, but it wasn't really sadness that I felt. It felt more like stillness, like softness, like longing and quietude. Did the book have that effect on me or was it something else?

 Maybe I should have phrased this post differently, as in not why do we read, but how? Maybe that would bring me closer to understanding. For in the process maybe we find the meaning.
When I was younger I read to learn things that I had to learn and to escape from those things I'd learned. (Ewww, I didn't want to know THAT)
I've read for different reasons at each stage of my life (now that I'm looking back).
The Kafka quote is a good one.  I don't believe it's completely true--sometimes reading crap is just what you need--but there have been books that have affected me like a disaster--books that broke me open to another way of seeing or being. 
I'm afraid of those books now--I'm afraid I won't have the time to explore the depth I discover. I mostly stick to the safe stuff now--what I consider safe.
These days I read to keep expanding my world, to see things from other POV's--so learning again and always.
I've changed how I read as well.  I pay more attention to a writer's construction, use and type of metaphor...stuff like that...I don't know why I do that.
Maybe because I have the time.
Mostly I read because I love it.  I'm a born reader, always lost in something when I should be out taking some exercise.

Thanks, Hanna, I like the question. 
KAFKA: What nonsense! Was he writing about literature for masochists? When I read a well written story I live that story. I am a character in the book and feel, taste, smell, hear, what the character does. I cannot read more than the occasional article about pain. A whole book is out of the question. The older I get, the more worn and decrepit my armour against emotion becomes. I am amazed that as a young child I read Black Beauty. How did I soldier thru the pain? Is it possible that at 10 I was actually more emotionally stunted than I am at 70? I certainly had the imagination to empathize. I read an account of a woman's survival in Rwanda in a magazine and it cost a box of Kleenex. I question whether it did me any good, acted as a cathartic. It was just another painful experience in literature, another lesson in daily living in a mad world. That's why I always have on hand a stack of purely escapist literature to hide in. I've never wept with Ian Rankin.

In response to william kensit
I am rereading Walker Percy's "Message in a Bottle" just now.  Percy suggests that our specie is unique in its capacity for language along with indulging in suicide and war against its own kind. He wonders whether there is a connection among these phenomena. He convinces me that there is.
One answer William, and you too Linda, suggest is that we read because we can read selectively. We can read heroic fantasy about dragonriders and not about the futile heroics among the victims of genocide. 
Walter Chronkite is missed, by those of us that do, perhaps because he was the last great provender of a public narrative that was generally acceptable. Since then, divide and conquer seems to prevail. 
Reading is listening. Selective listening. 

I do wonder how old Kafka was when he wrote that. I am no longer curious about the extent of man's depravity. 
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Latest Post: July 16, 2011 at 4:43 AM
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