Reading books is amongst the few things technology hasn’t been able to completely wipe out.
Back in the days of giant libraries, reading was a solace from loneliness. An unencumbered pleasure. The unforced habit.
Although there’s the likes of people like Kafka who called bullshit on all that, and said books are meant to hit you like a catastrophe – compared it to suicide – and then dropped this scenic metaphor: a book is an ax for the frozen sea inside us.
I first started reading books because I believed books were a badge of intellect. This is the biggest bunkum in the reading world closely followed by its corollary, if you don’t read books, you are a bonehead!
I don’t want to plumb these two theories, but this is the very kind of thinking reading aims to extricate us from.
With that out of the way, why do we still read books?
We read to understand each other’s complexity. And accept our own innate stupidity. Reading brings with it an empathy that flows beyond the characters in a novel. The loneliness that reading combats is not one of being less alone, but one of being there for someone. We don’t read to become intelligent, we read to become human.
None of this means we won’t continue to say or do massively dumb crap. Reading will help us develop an ability to deal with it better.
There are many pedestrian debates in the reading world. Prominent ones include reading fiction versus reading non-fiction, snorting the smell of paper versus reading words only if the words appear on a screen.
Taking sides here is futile and a disservice to reading. The battle for superiority through what we read or how we read is like hurling Kafka’s ax at one another.
No book is the same for two different people. And that’s what makes reading compelling. If you are mauling an author because the book didn’t resonate with you or evaluating someone only based on what they read, you may be missing the whole point of reading.
I came to a rather cold realization when I started writing.
The author is a sentient human being and writing, to put it in a Kafkaesque sense, is like sitting in front of a blank page with a sensation of being hit on the head with a heavy club several times, and then filling said blank page with words – which feels like being dragged around a swamp by a schizophrenic horse, followed by reading what just got written and sinking into the chair: numb as a bug trapped inside a block of frozen ice.
We outgrow books, abandon them, and will never get to read them all. A book doesn’t exist to please you. It only exists to be discovered. The discovery reveals you only as much as you reveal it. Books are to life what life is to mortality. Books are incurable insomniac infinities that light up the dark spaces of our universe.
You can’t be taught to love, but you can be taught to read.