Why We Read

summer reading
Image by ruminatrix via Flickr

The L.A. Times has an interesting collection of quotes by authors and journalists on why we read.  I still resonate with the proposal from the movie Shadowlands:  We read to know we’re not alone.

A sampling:

There’s a book I don’t remember well, though I can remember precisely where I found it in my elementary school library — three yards to the right of the door, in the middle of the third shelf from the floor.

I was, and remain, a compulsive reader. Back then, I read on the school bus, at the bus stop in the cold, at the dinner table, beneath the sheets and for hours sometimes in the only room with a door that locked, the bathroom, despite my sister’s pounding. This book was about a solitary little boy who, as I did, had a nervous habit of tapping everything he touched, and counting the combinations of taps. One day, he tapped a wall of stone. A door appeared. Behind it was a different world, not better really, but brighter and less dull. I read for the same reason that he tapped: to look for doors, to push through walls.

— Ben Ehrenreich is the author of the novel “The Suitors.”

Confession: I am an abuser of books. I break their spines; I underline passages with felt-tip pen. Once, on vacation, I actually dropped Joyce Maynard’s delectable “Where Love Goes” — a beach-book “Anna Karenina” that I like to re-read every three years — into the Jacuzzi. For my books, it’s spring break at Ft. Lauderdale and they’re scared. This is all to the horror of a fusty male friend who keeps his British first editions in a humidity-controlled room, as though they were wine. I see now, though, that my 7- and 8-year-old daughters have caught their mother’s bad habit. Across the back seat of our filthy wagon are capsized or spread-eagled “Goosebumps,” Jenny B. Joneses, “Beastmasters.” They are smeared in juice and Cheetos, and, to my horror recently, I saw this terrifying pink thing called “The Puppies of Princess Place” covered in ants. But, as my girls pointed out, ants like a good read too. Indeed.

— Sandra Tsing Loh is the author of “Mother on Fire.”

When I was a kid, the greatest thing about reading was that it made the world so much more sympathetic. The bully around the corner, the mouthy girl in class, the recluse nobody talked to — I understood them all as composites of characters who lived in the stories of Louisa May Alcott, Beverly Cleary, Charles Dickens, Norman Juster, Aesop, the brothers Grimm. Every two weeks, my mother took me to a library to stock up on a new set of books, and I looked forward to those visits the way I looked forward to parties or social engagements. The library was where I made my best friends.

There’s a genuine community of reading out there that transcends a lot of differences. Even if you’re into James Baldwin and somebody else is into William F. Buckley, you can always argue ideas. Curiosity and critical thinking put you in the same house, if not always the same room.

Much is made about the cultural relevance of books, about whether they speak to a child’s background or view of the world. I understand the concern. But books are ultimately about stimulating imagination and broadening a worldview. In my South-Central neighborhood, Dickens more than did the job.

— Erin Aubry Kaplan is a Los Angeles journalist.

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