Why do you read?

Fiction, I mean. I get history, or biographies, or philosophy/apologetics, or informational digests on gardening or cooking, but why do you read fiction?

Is it simple escapism and entertainment, craving that vicarious rush of adventure, pitched battle and torrid relationships? Is it a longing for clear purpose and a heroic, happy ending?

The love of language? The rhythms and cadence of quality prose? Admire deft and subtle characterizations? Snappy dialogue? Crave poignant insights into the human condition?

Do you want to be transported to weird and wonderful far off places populated with fantastic mythical creatures? Are you intrigued by the endless possibilities of world-building? From portrayals of cybernetic-enhanced detectives hunting down serial killers in the Nor-East Conurb, to wizened spell masters wielding ancient and puissant magic, does the depth and rich texture of fictional realms draw you in and carry you along for a mind-blowing scenic tour?

Do you ever feel guilty about reading fiction, as if you were “neglecting” reality? Or is your life enriched, informed and expanded?

I’m curious what people look for in a speculative fiction novel, and if they approach one with definite expectations. Thanks.

9 Replies to “Why do you read?”

  1. Does “because I can’t not” count as an answer? I can never remember not reading. My parents tell an anecdote about me receiving magnetic letters for my second birthday and naming them all as I pulled them one by one out of the box. They still have no idea where I learned the alphabet and blame Sesame Street even though the more likely explanation is that I was just born knowing how to read. 🙂

    I read everywhere. All the time. A character in one of the books I finished last week said “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. A man who doesn’t read lives only one.” And that’s the second best answer for why I read. Because even though I’m increasingly limited in where I can go and what I can do all I need to do is pick up a book and I’m learning about the business of Shrimping or the history of medicine or going to the future or travelling to another planet or..or..or…

    I guess the only good answer I can come up with is “because I can’t not”.

  2. Good post. In my opinion, reading gives us something that nothing else does — the chance to get lost in a good story at your own pace, and a world that you, the reader, helps to create. With movies, what you see is what you get. With a novel, the author puts in just the right amount of detail and leaves the rest to the readers imagination.

  3. Good point, Bob. The audience’s imagination as a key ingredient. I’ve never looked at it that way. I’ve always considered speculative fiction more of a dream or guided tour, and searched out those that challenge me.

    Katherine – I understand completely. If human beings are cross-pollinated, then I would say I’m addicted to creative input. Passion, quality, creativity wake me up as it were from the stupor of simply existing.

  4. I like a book I can really get in to. The storyline, the characters etc. (Which is why I like Running Black so much) I tend to re-read my faves once or twice a year, so they have to be good. Just finished my 3rd reading of running black(not counting proofreading early versions)

  5. Because I’m lazy, I’ll copy my answer from a bio on my site:

    The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy taught me to love loyalty and courage. Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, and Heidi made me laugh and cry and filled me to bursting with lovely language. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and The Little Princess chilled me and thrilled me, as the sweetest girls fell under the power of the most formidable villains, yet ended up victorious. Robinson Crusoe, Wrinkle in Time, Fahrenheit 451…all of these books helped me grow up and shaped the person I’ve become.

    These stories had conflict and action and color and noise. The characters opened their hearts to me and allowed me to share their lives. They taught me to relate to the world. They expanded my vision, helping me to see, to hear, and to sympathize—in short, to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn. They spoke eloquently of the human condition—the universal joys and sorrows of life.

    CS Lewis said we read so we know we aren’t alone. I think that’s a good answer. It’s the characters I read for.

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