Does reading matter?

Posted May 5, 2015 by Lory in discussions / 19 Comments

Today, with the ongoing barrage of terrible news of every kind from far and near, I scrapped my planned discussion post to address this burning question. Why, with all the other worthy causes that could claim my time and attention, do I spend time on reading, and on writing about reading? On books that take me away from the everyday world and the present moment? Isn’t it frivolous and selfish?

On a certain level it is, and it does make me feel guilty sometimes. Sometimes I just want to escape into a world where I don’t have to think about real problems, mine or others’. I want the safety of the imagination, where I have some measure of control, where I can stop reading if things get too dark or frightening.

But on another level, I’ve always been convinced that reading can be a path of development, a way of making ourselves more human. It connects us to the creative spark that lights up within another human being, that in turn connects us with something bigger than ourselves. If we really engage with what we’re reading, really wrestle with its meaning and purpose, then we may learn some small lesson that can help us to deal with the problems that confront us in everyday life. This can happen, I hold, even with literature that doesn’t overtly aim to address great and weighty issues. In every honestly creative act, I believe, there is a seed of the divine that waits to be brought to life through its reception in another mind and heart. Reading, rightly done, is a life-giving act, and we need all the life we can muster against the destruction that rages around us.

And in a dark and frightening world, there is a place for holding up the candle of joy and delight. This too is part of being human, and can be one of the greatest acts of courage of all.

It’s with all humility, and the knowledge that I’ve never truly been personally tested by adversity, that I write these words. I know that any contribution I make to the creative purpose of the world is very, very small. But it’s a contribution I can make, and that I try to make through the existence of this blog. Thank you for being here, and for holding up your own candle, whatever it may be.

What does reading mean to you? Can it make a difference in the world?

Posted for the 2015 Book Blog Discussion Challenge, hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight

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19 responses to “Does reading matter?

  1. What a beautifully written and thoughtful post. I truly believe that reading makes more empathetic, more open to connections with other people, more aware that everyone has a story, and our stories overlap & connect.

    • Well put — and maybe that also makes it even more painful to realize we can't intercede in everyone's stories.

  2. Oh, what a fascinating, fascinating discussion. I would argue that reading is part of what keeps us human. Think about it-reading puts us in another person's brain in a way that nothing else does. I don't think that it's a coincidence that the people I know who are the biggest readers are also some of most empathetic people I know.

    The other thing that this ties into is reading the news. Sometimes I really do wonder if it's pointless. I guess what I'm asking is, is there a point where you're just flooding yourself with bad news but not actually doing anything about it? Sometimes I think that we emphasis being informed to the point that, as long as you're informed, you have no obligation to do anything about a problem. That said, knowing about events has lead to all kinds of great change.

    But, back to reading-I think that sometimes a little bit of escape and distraction is not a bad thing. That said, I do think that there can be too much of a good thing. Would it be possible to bury oneself in books, ignoring all the pressing issues at hand? Of course. But I don't think that reading as a way to stay sane and to escape from it all is a bad thing either.

    • I've just been reading a fascinating book about the Inklings (CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, et al) and how literature was for them an escape from the horrors of war. If it hadn't been, we wouldn't now have their greatest works. There are always two sides…

  3. What a wonderful post, Lory! I agree with you entirely, and I love your use of the candle metaphor… and this: "In every honestly creative act, I believe, there is a seed of the divine that waits to be brought to life through its reception in another mind and heart." YES.

    I do think reading for escape, for a break or vacation from the horrors of the news and the stresses of daily life, is also a good reason to read. It helps me keep my mental/emotional/spiritual balance – in effect, it helps me stay sane and mentally healthy. As someone who struggles with anxiety (which can easily be made worse by dwelling on the news), that's something I value highly.

  4. Very thoughtful, and fascinating discussion post Lory! I haven't really thought about reading in quite this way, but I do agree with your points on how reading can be a way to celebrate humanity and the creativity of an individual. There is so much wrong with the world, that it is wonderful to thoroughly enjoy this pastime while we can. It's saddening enough sometimes to hear what's going on around the world, that I do appreciate being able to read about happier things which can be inspiring.

  5. I hold with the general idea that it makes us see things from another perspective, and even if that perspective happens to be fictional in the book, there's surely a real-world counterpart. In addition it can help us see the result of certain choices, or the effect of choices if not the result as such. It does feel indulgent against life in general but the variety of ideas and opinions you gain surely help a bit and when those are added together a fair amount even if not always remarked on or noticed.

    Other mediums can do the similar, but you're far more likely to see the deeper aspects, and all the thoughts, in a book. There's just the space and time for it.

    • I like that perspective — that reading gives space and time for thinking about and considering different aspects of a situation, which is not always the case in real life crises.

  6. I definitely think that reading makes a difference in lives. It fosters imagination and helps us to understand others' perspectives in ways we might not have otherwise. So many times, people have said that a particular book really affected them deeply in a difficult time in their life. Books are important to the world!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  7. As someone with a background in early education, reading is the single most important aspect of the curriculum. Being literate enables people to read, to communicate, to learn. More importantly, being a lifelong reader provides people access to stories throughout time, developing problem-solving skills (by basing real life situations on hypothetical ones) and allowing access and the perpetuation of their culture.
    Sorry for the academicness of the comment – I went back into university assignment mode! Interesting topic though!
    Beth x
    http://www.thequietpeople.com

  8. I agree that reading can help make a person more sensitive and sympathetic (though it is, of course, no guarantee, since some of the worst people in history probably enjoyed a good classic novel in their spare time). However, I think we should not be ashamed of using books as a means of escape, as well. There's nothing wrong with trying to find a bit of sanity in the world When everything around me is dark, I need to read a story where the characters do the right thing even though it's hard and won't reward them. I need to read a story where good always wins. That sort of thing gives me the strength to keep going. Escape is not a bad thing!

    -Krysta

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