Have you ever wondered why you read books? And have you ever thought that maybe that reason is different now, as opposed to several years ago? (Not to even mention about when you just started.)
A GIF of a sloth, making a thinking face
I have been wondering about this lately. How it’s not just my reading choices, genres, preferred themes that change, but even reasons why I read in the first place.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading.
I remember reading always. As long as I’ve been alive and can remember myself, apart from the brief few years straight before university because I had to cram a lot for the exams. I guess I couldn’t remember why I read back then even if I tried. Perhaps it was just natural, the way I was brought up to read all the time? I barely even remember what I read, sadly. But for kids, reading is just reading, I guess – like exploring anything else. You’re not picky – everything is still so fresh and interesting. We read to explore as kids. Its why we like reading about adventures the best. That, or fantasy worlds.
A GIF of Bilbo from The Hobbit, running through the Shire and shouting ‘I’m going on an adventure!’
One of my favorites from that time was precisely the Hobbit:
I know that as a teen, I also started reading to relate.
There’s something amazing to read about someone quite like you, but who is also doing Big Crazy Things™ as a teen. To find those shy, introverted characters, who, even if slighty cliche, go out there and defeat monsters. And win. Or, more rarely, are accepted into society, while their bullies are not. (Sadly, I did not encounter many books with bullying portrayed well. It was a time when bullying was considered light and whimsical, and an inconvenience at best – not the soul crushing monster we see it as today.) It’s really no surprise the YA is so popular, especially YA fantasy: teens need to see people like themselves winning, when they often feel so lost in their own world. Which is why we need to many more books where typical, non-perfect and especially diverse teens beat the baddies or achieve good things. As a teen, you really need to see this in the media.As kids, we read to explore. As teens, we might read to relate. As adults, we can read to escape or to discover. Have you ever wondered why you read? Click To Tweet
Anyway, slightly after reading about adventuring teens, I know I started dream-reading.
A GIF of Bunny (Usagi) from Sailormoon, with hears in her eyes
And by dream-reading, I mean that it was sort of fulfilling a daydreaming function for me. It’s too bad I didn’t have any accessible good, clean romance stories around me at the time. (I know many of you hate the word ‘clean’ for romance, but at least you know what I mean – I wanted young teen romance. Not steamy adult stuff.) There’s a ridiculous lack of realistic teen romance stories!! Or, at least, there was at the time when I was a teen, and that’s slightly before, say, even Twilight was even a thing, to give you a time reference.
If I had had access to nice, soft and unthreatening romance that happens to simple and not special teen heroines at the time, maybe I’d love reading romance now. Sadly, life experiences make it so that I either get really put off by most romance books – I either roll my eyes, or it makes me depressed for weeks, even though its supposed to cheer me up.
A GIF of Grumpy Cat holding up an umbrella while hearts are falling onto her
Then came my late teens, and I know I started reading for a whole ‘nother reason.
Gone was the dreaming, gone were the adventures. Life was dark, and I plunged head-first into horror. I read a lot of Stephen King – more than a lot of grown-ups have, quite often, in their lifetimes. Of course, it was interesting, it was engaging and well written – but I don’t think that’s why I read it. I think I read it because I needed to confirm that the world is as dark as it looked from my my corner of the world back then. Bleak, hopeless, and with a looming dread always around the corner. (To be honest, I don’t know if its good I read so much Stephen King when I was 15-16. The fact that it didn’t scare me… scares me now. If the story of the clown from IT doesn’t scare you, then you are living in a really dark and deep shithole.)
A GIF of the moving night sky, clouded, dark and broken by lightning
Some of my favorites from that time:
Sadly, after the Stephen King interlude, I had to stop reading for some 3 years.
I had loads of exams and other responsibilities. I couldn’t spare any time for reading non-course books, so I read engineering books for fun. I also read in Japanese for language practice. Mostly Haruki Murakami, because he complimented the dark world of Stephen King with his cold, desolate weirdness. (Yes, I’ve read Murakami in his mother tongue. Fear me.) I did read other stuff though, but it was also mostly just dark.
Some of my favorites from that time:
After the school load eased up, I could finally pick up where I left. But since the last stuff I was into was Murakami, and I was now older, I picked up a lot of high brow stuff. Stuff I now yawn at. I think, at that time, studying solely among men (oh yes, the realities of studying engineering in my country), day-to-day life was kind of vulgar – all the more vulgar, because everything was simplified, especially the jokes. Because have you tried hanging out with engineer men? They either do vulgar, dirty or nerdy. Nerdy is fun and great, but that’s about the only stroke of ‘intellectual’ you’ll get. (Guys, don’t be angry. You’re intellectual I’m sure – and maybe your group is – my peer group SO wasn’t.)
So I guess, at that point, I needed reading to be my “theatre” and my “philosophy”.
I steered away from light, fun or adventurous heads. It was the time YA was only taking off here, and it got a bad rap with all the vampire stuff that mass-flooded the market (let’s admit that mass floods like that rarely produce quality, and it took the industy a few years to sort out the wheat from the chaff.) I was effectively put off YA for YEARS!
Anyway though, I think I was reading to be somewhat snotty too. It’s pretty embarrassing to think about it now!
And a little funny. Perhaps its not that uncommon to be a maximalist is Your early 20s?
A GIF of Marilyn Monroe, gorgeously shrugging (I will never tire of this GIF, I swear.)
I know that after I left uni and was trying to find myself, I started enjoying biographies.
Mostly because it was stories about REAL people. They inspired me, because sometimes these stories could be stronger than any fictional book! I guess I was reading for hope – stuck in a job I hated, with jobless parents, no personal life to speak of. Loneliness and lack of direction were all heavy things on my heart – and reading real stories of people who also struggled, but grew despite it, made me feel better. They still do. I still adore real life stories, whether happy or sad.
At that time I also read a lot of New Age, meditation and lucid dreaming stuff. I still do from time to time. That I read for self-improvement. I had a lot of time on my hands because I didn’t know what I was doing in my job, and neither did my boss, it seems. So I devoted a lot of time for reading. My huge Goodreads to-read shelf mostly comes from that time!
I read a lot of classics then, cause it was accessible and free – and I fell in love with Victorian classics.
I still fondly remember discussions in the Goodreads reading group. Why did I read stuff that was written at least 100 years ago? Because I wanted to escape to a world that was simpler and slower than our own, but still the same world (somehow fantasy was far too fantastical.)
Some of my favorites from that time:
After that I started getting into review books, even though I wasn’t a blogger yet. And from there, it just took off, and here we are.
I know at some point I read purely for the numbers. I also read for hope, for escape, for validation of my worldview. Now? I don’t know, perhaps all those things. But there are new reasons now. Now, I also read for the jokes and the mood – never a thing a decade ago, reading was serious for me back then. I also read to escape into a feel-good world. I read to challenge my thinking and my moral concepts. But most of all, I now read to be able to talk to you all about it! I read to connect, I read to support authors and topics I care about. I read to find my home – because my home is sometimes the very act of reading. I also read to shut the inner chatter up. I sometimes read to basically meditate, you could say. I even read to put my sorry insomniac ass to sleep. So I guess, in the end, there are more reasons I head (or read in the past) than I suspected, before I started writing this post. And what about you?
What are your reasons for reading? Have they changed over the years?
I’m Evelina and I try to blog about books that matter, with a bit of fun there too! Disability and equality will be topics you see a lot, but there’s also a lot of scifi, fantasy and… GIFs. I’m also the proud founder of #ARCsAnonymous.