Why I Read (Books)

The Beautiful and Damned (Fitzgerald)

When I was young — younger than I am now — I always assumed that reading books was the right thing to do.

What I mean by “right” is that if you walked into the living room and plopped yourself down on the sofa to read for three hours, your parents wouldn’t bother you about it. In fact, they’d praise you for it. When their friends came for casual visits and you were cooped up with a book, your parents might say with a laugh, “Oh, our child is always reading.”

When I got to grade seven, I was reading all the time. Weary of the YA dystopian-teenage-love-triangle-trilogy archetypes, I got a list of “classic literature” from the internet and wolfed down Dickens, Austen, and the Brontë sisters.

In retrospect, I had no idea why I was doing it. Was it because of my stupid seventh-grade superiority complex? Did I read the books just to say that I had read them? Did I really understand Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby, or A Tale of Two Cities? Did I see anything beyond surface domestic problems in Pride and Prejudice? What about Les Misérables or Gone With the Wind — what did I take away from these masterpieces?

Years later, I am still an avid reader, perhaps for reasons entirely different. At lunchtime, or on long commutes, I always manage to squeeze in a chapter or two. My undying childhood conviction — that reading books was “the right thing to do” — never faltered, even in this generation of TL;DR. When people approach me asking, jokingly, “How do you have time to read? You don’t even have English this semester!” I smile in return, but the idea of one day putting reading in the past sounds nightmarish to me.

Aside from their thematic motifs and overarching structures running through humanity, skillful novels contain a different kind of truth: The truth of feeling, the logic of emotion — a sort of understanding which cannot be explained, but only felt instantly as if we were being shown our own pains and desires, or perhaps an understanding painstakingly spun with words into sentences into chapters into morality and sin, laughter, tears, relentless questioning, the fabric of life. We might analyze and we might think, and in doing so we only learn to uncover more of who we are and the parts of ourselves we have never realized existed.

At this point, I fear that this post is a few hundred words too long, because it can be summarized in a sentence: A good book is an invaluable treasure.

I do not mean to preach. I know that it is not always realistic to be a voracious reader. I do not understand enough to fully appreciate much of literature, I’m sure. I can only hope that I will always remain, at heart, the thirteen-year-old girl who read until she passed out at night, projecting herself unto faraway lives, excited for her own to begin.