Saturday, January 07, 2006

"Why do you read?"

I invite you to answer my question, "Why do you read?" Or, as Meera has re-worded it, "What kinds of things do you get out of reading?"

But I won't accept this answer:
"I don’t really spend much time thinking about my purpose for reading — it’s like asking me my purpose for interacting with people; I simply do it because it’s part of being alive and thinking and feeling, and it makes being alive and thinking and feeling much more interesting."
because that's not true for most people. Most people don't read at all. Street signs and phone books, yes, sometimes even newspapers. But most people don't read for pleasure. And I'm only interested in hearing what you have to say if you actually enjoy reading.

Me, I don't know why I read, or what I get out of reading. That's why I'm asking you. But I think my reasons for loving some books and hating others have more to do with my relationship with the book than the book itself. This is probably why I don't re-read books, because I'm afraid my experience reading it a second time won't be the same.

In answer to Sarah's question, "Erica, could you list some specific books you like? What are your favorites?" I submit the following.

In high school I had trouble getting through most of the assigned books. My only explanation is that my brain wasn't ready for complex sentences. Symbolism was way too much for me. But I did love these:
Catcher in the Rye, Salinger.
Jurassic Park, Crichton. This was assigned, but I read it in three days, a remarkable accomplishment, at least in 10th grade. I liked the science.
Galapagos, Vonnegut. Again, I liked the science.
Cat's Cradle, Vonnegut. And, the science. Ice Nine is the coolest.
The Bean Trees, Kingsolver. I liked the story, and the language. For the first time, I felt like there was a purpose to the usage of each word.
Night, Wiesel.
Yellow Raft on Blue Water, Dorris. This one was also assigned (incidentally, by the same teacher as Jurassic Park). I liked the way the three stories built on each other and revealed more about each character.

In college I took science classes. I didn't really read for pleasure except during the summer and winter breaks. Most of the books I read left me unsatisfied. But I took two English classes that surprised me.
Summer Sisters, Blume. This was a trashy summer novel, but I loved it all the same.
Memoirs of a Geisha, Golden. It was good.
Rubyfruit Jungle, Brown. I adored this book, probably because the protagonist had spunk. Moxie.
A Town Like Alice, Shute. Amazed that I could get through it, I loved the story all the same. They didnt even realize they loved each other until after they thought the other was dead! And then they meet again!
Autobiography of a Face, Greely. This was assigned, and I think I liked it because I knew why I was reading it. I had to write a paper on how her face affected her personality, so I was able to underline key sentences. When I got an "A" on the paper, I felt like I had conquered that book.
Persuasion, Austen. I read almost all of her books in my Austen class, but this was by far my favorite, because it was all about the little moments, the unspoken gestures that showed that after all that time, they still loved each other.

Since college, I've had more time and interest to read, and it's all for pleasure. I'm still often dissatisfied with them, but here are a few favorites:
Cider House Rules, Irving.
The Color Purple, Walker. I think I loved this one and not the majority of Oprah books because despite the crappy situations, Celie was happy. (In most Oprah books, the characters feel depressed.)
Ella Minnow Pea, Dunn. I liked the way they played with words.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Konigsburg. Duh.
the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, Haddon. I liked the math and science and the protagonist's way of telling the story.
Holes, Sachar. It was fun. I like how it walked the border between reality and outrageous without actually crossing the line.
The Princess Bride, Goldman. It was hillarious.

Looking at these lists, I notice a lack of trend. They're not full of characters to whom I can relate, but most of them have well-written, likable characters. There's more science than I'd expect, but I'd argue with calling any besides Jurassic park science fiction. Comments?


  1. Maybe it would be helpful if I wrote about a book you like and I don't, since we're usually the other way around. I'll try reading Memoirs of a Geisha -- we have it, but I suspect I'm not going to be a fan. ;-)

  2. I read Memoirs -- it was good, not my favorite, not planning on buying it or ever re-reading it, but enjoyable. I learned a lot about geishas.