It occurred to me while writing up an article about an author that I wanted to explore the reasons behind why we actually pick up a book and read it. What is the appeal? Is it the glossy cover with the attractive picture? Is it the blurb on the back that entices us to open it and start to immerse ourselves in the words? Is it the recommendation on the front from an admired celebrity or credited source? Is that we have been pressurised by our friends and family to read it because everyone else has, we must too, a Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey? There is a perceived underlying pressure to conform and read the book that everyone else is. Maybe so we can be included in conversation or so that we can be considered widely read and therefore on an assumed higher plane of existence to everyone else. Then, if we read it do we have to automatically have to like it to conform? Is it a crime to say, ‘well actually, I don’t like Tolkien’. There is a certain degree of snobbery surrounding reading that possibly stems from the classics, which are perceived 'must reads', Shakespeare, Austin, Hardy. But what if we have no desire to read these books, does that make us less educated, less accepted in particular social circles? Having studied English at A level and Masters level, I am exposed to this possible snobbery. Does it matter if I site my sources from elsewhere, from more contemporary novels as opposed to the classics that people casually drop into conversation, often to score brownie points?
We are taught from being young that we should read. We have stories read to us by our parents to send us off to sleep and have vivid dreams about the things we have just been told about. We are encouraged for homework to read passages of books. At secondary school level we are assessed in our abilities to read and interpret assigned books, Orwell, Hill and Golding. If we pursue it at college the in depth study becomes more intense, where we look to the author and their state of mind when writing and their influences at the time as well as character motivation. We are programmed to read. If not fiction, but endless reference books and journals to back up hypothesises and essays. If not in education, then there are magazines, pamphlets and even, dare I say it, the backs of food products. We take for granted how much we read on a daily basis and perhaps resent it when it is forced upon us.
Reading expands the mind to new things and allows our imaginations to work overtime, as someone’s interpretation of a setting or character can be completely different to another’s. Think how many times you have heard about a film adaptation that ‘they didn’t look like how I imagined in the book!’ We easily learn what we do and do not like to read, which is why forced texts in education can sometimes tire us of the task, as opposed to looking forward to it. We can become trapped in a genre rut, whereby we don’t read anything but romantic fiction or horror, but at least we are being exposed to the variations in the genre, rather than nothing at all. The question is, does widely reading make us more intelligent? We are exposed to new words every day that we may not have ordinarily having not read. We learn things about other people, celebrities or famous names from the past and places. It makes our vocabulary expand to the point where we can use these words in day to day conversation, making our expression of ourselves and other people more fruitful and detailed. However can we learn these things in other ways? Films, television, the radio, pictures on the internet? Pictures can be a good stimulus but how much can they say without a caption to reinforce its meaning? Foreign films are some of the best you will ever see, but what’s the use if we don’t like subtitles?
If I have to dedicate my bedtime to reading a chapter of a novel, it has to be exciting throughout to stop me from falling asleep mid-sentence. I have to admit that I have several books on the go at once, as I am looking for gratification from a good many genres and it takes something very special for me to read a book uninterrupted by another. I get many books on my desk each day and I have to say for me it’s the cover. A well selected picture can be the make or break.
Reading can mean a complete extraction from your own world and introduction to another which can be more appealing than the one we are currently living. The escapism of it all, especially that of something that is other worldly can be the attraction. Whereas a book that is more reflective of real life may be turn off, as the differentiation between the two worlds is not enough.
Whatever your drive to pick up a book- happy reading!
Female First Lucy Walton