Why do you read books? Why do people who read books, read? Why do I read books? You will find literary, and also arcane reasons for reading in this Brain Pickings blog post. For example, Kafka read books because they were axes that helped him cut the ice of the frozen sea within him. Carl Sagan (of the Cosmos fame) saw books as proof that humans can create magic and by reading them we can become a part of that magic or participate in the enactment of that magic. James Baldwin believed that books can change our destiny.
This makes me think, why was I reading the book I was reading (The Sialkot Saga by Ashwin Sanghi) in the afternoon? Or rather, why do I read? I read a lot less than many people I know who read but still, I read more than an average, literate person does. At home we have always had a decent collection of books. When we dispose of books it’s not because we don’t want to keep them, we dispose of them because we don’t have enough space to keep them.
Anyway, that has got nothing to do with why one reads, but the point that I wanted to make was, I have been always surrounded by a good dose of books since childhood and considering the number of books I’ve read so far, I should have a fair idea of why I read.
Unlike those great writers and thinkers quoted in the above link, my reasons for reading books are quite down to earth and straight forward. Or if I’m using reading books as an axe to break the ice of the frozen ocean within me, like Kafka did, perhaps I have never sat down for a few hours to ponder over the topic. I neither see an axe, nor a frozen ocean.
I remember I have always been inclined towards reading. I couldn’t read till the age of 13-14 because I have cerebral palsy and back then we didn’t have special schools. This reminds me, surprisingly, my parents never made a conscious effort to teach me reading, although they were otherwise quite caring and loving. I remember I used to bug my elder sister to read me comics and other books and she herself being quite young at that time, she couldn’t read to me every time I asked. But I remember I used to feel very bad that I couldn’t read.
In my special school our teacher used to force us to read books. Not just read books, but also write a summary after completing every book. Wanting to read books on my own was one thing, but being forced to read them and then write about them was a different thing and most of the time I resisted. But that was the first reason why I started reading books. Ours was an NGO-run school so all the books in our library were donated and most of the people who donated those books had English books, so I mostly read English books. Later on when my mother started buying books for me she would buy English books (mostly recommended by the bookseller because I couldn’t accompany her) because she had always seen me reading English books.
Even when I was being forced by my teacher to read books, I had the tendency to take notes and try to understand words I didn’t understand. This was the second reason why I read books when I was small. I wanted to learn as many new words as possible. I have always wanted to be a writer. While reading books I would keep a diary and a dictionary with me and every time I came across a word I didn’t understand, I would jot it down and then look up its meaning in the dictionary. It’s another matter I never memorised most of the words (as my wife often says, that I’m a ‘process’ person, I like the process of doing things without actually intending to see them through their conclusion). A read to learn new words and I also read to learn how different writers write and weave plots.
What about reading for the sake of reading stories and spending time. Yes, of course. I have read many books just because I’ve found the story very interesting and captivating. I’ve spent entire nights reading books because I couldn’t put them down. Back then we didn’t have the Internet and TV to compete with the time that we could devote to reading books. We didn’t have Facebook and Twitter!
Why do I read books these days? Over the past few years I have been reading lots of non-fiction. Books on religion, books on intellectual conspiracies, books on political intrigues, books on personalities, even autobiographies. I have read these books to expand my knowledge and perspective. I don’t always agree with the writers but still I want to know what they think about particular subjects, so I read them.
But reading non-fiction is not as enriching as reading fiction, especially when you need to write fiction. So I have again started reading fiction, in fact, lots of it. Although many times I feel that I read in order to avoid writing, my experience is that I am most fluid and creative when I’m reading a lot. So I also read books in order to be able to write better. But I’m two-minded about this. My better sense says that these days I mostly read to avoid writing. Why do you read books?