The Desire To Read 8 May, 2023 – Posted in: Articles, Books – Tags: ,

The desire to read – where does it come from? When books became accessible to the majority of people and before the inventions of the radio, film, and television, the popularity of reading is easy to understand. Now, given the multitude of ways people receive their entertainment, why does the desire to read persist?

I think the obvious answer is that reading involves the reader more fully and completely. When we read, in whatever way we choose, we are making a commitment. Readers make a commitment to themselves. To spend some time immersed and engaged in an activity that is solely for themself. The rush people feel when they get a little chime from their phones is nothing compared to the deep satisfaction and happiness a reader feels after finishing a book. After feeling that pleasure once, it becomes habit-forming to the inveterate reader.

Often when we discover reading – reading for real pleasure – it’s because we’ve discovered a way into something we already like. Liking the thing we are reading opens the reader up to like new things. Then we read about the new things we like and the cycle continues.

Author Neil Gaiman has a profound love of reading and books and in 2013 he wrote an article for The Guardian. In one part he says:

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end … that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

-Neil Gaiman, 2013

Stirring stuff.

Reading helps us to recreate ourselves in our minds. We can identify with characters and adopt methods the characters use in our own lives. When we read about a character overcoming something it gives us hope that we can overcome our own problems.

Reading can also give us agency. Reading is a choice for good and even if our lives are not as we would like them to be, the choice of what we read is all our own. And despite the efforts of misguided groups of people to limit that choice, their efforts will always fail in the end.

The desire to read is not down to one single thing or idea. It is made up of many small things that keep the need for reading alive. Regardless of what makes you want to read, reading will always be part of what makes us human. Reading is part of the best that humanity has to offer.

The desire to read. A young woman reading in a bookshop. Source: HuffPost.
Girl sitting in a bookshop. Source: HuffPost
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