Have you ever thought about why we read books? Sounds odd, I know, but sometimes I think about how much time it takes to read a book and have this fleeting thought – is it worth it? Well, I would say that most of the time my answer is a resounding YES!!! But as I’ve crossed decades, I have grown less tolerant of reading a book that I don’t enjoy and can (almost) force myself to stop reading one. We all know it when we have a good one – you can’t put it down. The story is engrossing and you find yourself looking for time to read it. I’ve gone so far as to listen to a book on audible while driving and reading the physical book at home. (This works far better with kindle because you can “whispersync” the book and the kindle will pick up where you left off when you stopped listening. Otherwise, I’m having to fast forward on audible.) When the story doesn’t grab me or the writing is banal, I think about the fact that we all only have so much time on earth and wasting it on a bad book is a travesty. Put it down. There are a million other excellent stories to read.
So, why do we read? In contemplating this question, I think back to a very young me that read voraciously and would enter reading contests over the summer between school years. (I even won a reading trophy in first grade.) I won’t ignore the fact that my competitive nature didn’t drive me to read more than I normally would have in those summer months, but it is a skill that has served me so well in my life. Setting aside the competitive component, reading provided an escape and a window into an unknown world. As a child growing up in a not-so-sophisticated suburban world, books showed me ideas, places and people that I would never otherwise come to know living in Irving, Texas.
In 2020 (pre-pandemic), I chose 30 books as my challenge. Right now, I’ve completed 18 books and in the middle of a 944-page novel (this should count as 3 books!) and another non-fiction book that I’ve been “reading” for about a year. It never occurred to me until writing this piece that I am engaging in the same practice as I did when I was 6-years-old – almost 40 years ago. (really??) For some reason, it makes me smile to think about the fact that I’ve entered a reading challenge in 2020 reflective of a challenge from 1981. Are we challenging each other in a parallel universe? Does the 45-year-old read with the same vigor as the 7-year-old? Quite possibly. I do know that the engulfing nature of a good book is the same today as it was then – the feeling of “knowing” the characters and anticipating their reactions and words when an incredible writer has brought the character to life. Not wanting the story to end or crying my eyes out at the devastating death of a character or the poignancy of how the story ends. That has never changed.
And, again, I find myself escaping the everyday through the books and stories I read. Travel is nigh impossible right now – at least to the places I pine for. So, I’m left to explore them through books and the internet. The only hindrance a year ago was finding time to travel with a busy workload. It never occurred to me that at some point I would be met with closed borders. Left with my imagination, like rolling a die over and over, I have toyed with the idea of the first locale I will visit. Knowing this will end keeps my spirits up, but for now I have my books and my imagination.