I’ve been a bookworm since the day I learned how to read, and maybe before. As a child, I spent long summer days hiding out in the backyard with a library book, getting so bookwormlost in the story I’d often find myself squinting into shadows, oblivious to the deepening of afternoon around me. Today, though I rarely have that same luxury of time, I still carry a need for the quality of total immersion in story and reflection that good writing offers.
That means I also carry books around with me—everywhere. Even on a quick run to the post office or the grocery store, I tuck a novel in my purse. I grab a collection of poetry before Even on a quick run to the post office or the grocery store, I tuck a novel in my purse. I hop on the bus. I never know when a long line or a traffic jam will offer me the chance to plunge back into time-out-of-time, even if it’s just a few pages.
So when my sister asked me to curate the Book Club column for Move, it felt like a natural fit. I’m excited to connect with you through books, to find out more about why and how and where you read, because I know it will deepen my own lifelong passion for literature.
I’m curious about the current shape of reading in our often hectic, fragmented lives. What is it about books? What keeps us reading?
These days, there’s a tendency toward anxiety about the (supposed) decline of reading. The recent torrent of books and essays on the subject usually associates this decline with the What is it about books? What keeps us reading? rise of communication technologies. This is important and fascinating work. It offers a critical, panoramic view of the fast-paced present, attempting to map the changes at work in the minds and bodies of thinking, creative beings.
I find the analysis useful when it engages the best of current findings from neuroscience and psychology, philosophy and history. It’s when this work strays from inquiry and makes a nose-dive into despair that I grow skeptical.
Granted, I’m no stranger to despair. In my own concern for the future of human intellectual life, I can find myself in a nail-biting paralysis, all too eager to condemn social media and text messaging, overly-willing to make dire predictions for the fate of literature as we know it.
In other words, I think a balance of caution and gratitude can serve us best when it comes to new media. Yes, we should continue to think critically about the ways in which we receive information. Yes, we should take advantage of new technologies where appropriate. But do we really need to worry about the desire to read? Will our attraction to story, and our need to tell our own stories, ever really go away?
In defense of the book, the critic too often assumes the role of physician. According to this perspective, we read, and should continue to read, because it’s good for us. This view of books is like the FDA view In defense of the book, the critic too often assumes the role of physician. of vegetables. Everyone needs to choke down the recommended proportion in order to extract the correct amount of vitamins necessary for health and longevity.
Yawn. Though a healthy diet is an essential part of well-being, that’s not why I eat vegetables. I eat them because they are delicious, because of the complexity of flavor in a well-grown carrot or tender new potato, especially one from my own garden. I love the diversity and personality I find in the vegetable world, the endless culinary possibilities provided by a full palette of plant colors and flavors.
I don’t read or eat out of a sense of dry, moral duty to health, and I doubt you do, either.
Rather, I read because books draw me into deeper engagement with life. I read because I long I read because books draw me into deeper engagement with life
to understand the human story in all of its complexity. I read out of an insatiable hunger for meaning and connection. I read books—good books—because each one illuminates another fragment in the mosaic of suffering and delight and loneliness and transcendence that makes up our collective, living history.
There is nothing new under the sun, but each individual life will always see things anew. It’s my guess that we’re born needing to connect our individual stories to the larger human story. That’s what keeps us creating, questioning, challenging and rebuilding. I think it’s what keeps us—and will continue to keep us—reading.
What do you think?
I hope you’ll join the Book Club as we read a new book together each month. We’re going to move. We’re going to read widely, taking selections from across time, all aisles of the bookstore, and all over the world. Bring your questions and suggestions, and get ready to join in the conversation. We’re going to move.
See you on October 2nd, when we’ll announce October’s read.