Saturday, 6 October 2012

Why I read, or, my secret obsession with escapism

I read. I've read ever since I can remember: ladybird books on the first day of school, fairy tales, Famous Five, modern fiction, literary fiction, classics, crime fiction, historical fiction, sci fi, fantasy, biography, history, psychology, feminism, Dickens, Mills and Boon, cookery books, essays, poetry - the whole lot.  And in this reading, I have felt happiness, contentment, curiosity, sadness, despair, desolation, and I have cried tears of grief after a favourite character died (still to this day one of my favourite characters - and no, I've never managed to go back and re-read that book). 

I've read to escape: to escape the day, to escape frustrations, problems, politics, and personal tragedy.  I've read to distance myself from immediate challenges of life,  to allow my mind to wander, to recharge, to imagine.  Mostly, I read because the stories we tell are too important not to be read, because the stories we read tell us something about ourselves and how we relate to the world around us.  Stories give a voice to those who have no voice, they give meaning where we imagine there is none, and they bind readers and listeners together in sharing whilst giving us individual freedom in our personal responses.  Stories allow us to see ourselves in characters: our humour, generosity, meanness and darkness, and thereby, to see those characters as ourselves. 

At their simplest, books give us another point of view; whilst grounded, in our head we can travel somewhere else - such juxtapositions offered to us might be the only chance in a day when we can experience this journey, this other view of the world. For some, this journey might be the only thing that makes the day extraordinary.  We can be in the future, in the past, in the body of a man, woman, girl, boy, animal or machine, and only imagination is the limit.  And yet we are safe - safe in our armchair or bed, safe in the afternoon or evening, or in the middle of the night when the hour of the wolf strikes and everything we fear terrifies us.  We can soothe ourselves with poetic words or action adventure.  We can make ourselves feel better, by reading words.

Then we can put our book down and know that we can pick up where we left off, we can go back to the murder scene,  or the grey-blue skies of Scandinavia, or the wild Yorkshire moors.  And then, when we have finished our book, which we have picked chocolate box-like from thousands of many others, we can talk about about it, and discover the many other translations in many other minds.

Very occasionally, maybe once or twice in a lifetime, a book will unlock something in the reader which they will never forget: a feeling, thought, a truth, a realisation, a connection.  This thing will spark off a reaction which will change the way the reader sees the world forever.  

This is why I read.