One day this past summer as a friend and I were wandering through various used bookstores around town, I was uncharacteristically impatient to leave and couldn’t seem to focus on anything in particular. After leaving behind the one book I was searching for, my friend asked me an important question- he wondered why I read. Initially, this seemed like a silly question. I read because I like books, I promptly told him. He looked at me quizzically, searching for something more. “But do you enjoy reading?” he asked me. “Of Course I enjoy reading” I answered, still not understanding what he was getting at. Then he probed further. “When’s the last time you read a book purely for enjoyment?” This question gave me pause. After all, I have a reputation for devouring books, and I’m always reading something. At the same time, for the last 15+ years since I started my career as a Children’s Bookseller, I’ve read almost exclusively for work. I can count the number of just-for-the-fun-of-it books I’ve read in the last year on one hand, including two Outlander books. Over the summer I’m trying to advance read the big releases that I’ll be promoting throughout our busy fall season. I give two presentations annually in January, and I spend the majority of my Christmas Break trying to read as many of those titles as I possibly can. Little by little, reading was becoming a high-pressure, obligatory exercise. I felt guilty for reading anything wasn’t work related, because there are always so many books I need to read. Don’t get me wrong- many of these books are great, but I am still reading them for a purpose. It wasn’t until this conversation with my friend that I actually stopped to think about what reasons I had for reading and whether or not I still enjoyed it.
The first thing I did was drastically slow down my reading pace during my summer break. While it felt almost neglectful to not be attending to the large pile of books I carried home with me, I realized that I needed to give myself time to see if I would miss reading, which I absolutely did. What did I miss about it exactly? The weather was beautiful and I had plenty of activities to keep me busy, so it certainly wasn’t the lack of having something to do. It also certainly wasn’t a fear of missing something. I have long-since accepted that there will always be more books than there is time to read them and whether I read 50 books or 500 books (No, I’ve never read that many in a year in case you’re wondering), I’m always going to miss something. I missed what I get from reading. Reading for me is more than a distraction. Books and reading are definitely a distraction, but so is Facebook. Books are a form of entertainment, but so are movies and television. I read to learn. I read to expand my world. I read to think. I read to understand. I read to escape. I read because I need to. I read because I want to.
Everyone has their own reasons for reading, but a quote I came across from author Gary Paulsen is a perfect summation of all of the reasons that I love and need to read.
“Why do I read?
I just can’t help myself.
I read to learn and to grow, to laugh
and to be motivated.
I read to understand things I’ve never
been exposed to.
I read when I’m crabby, when I’ve just
said monumentally dumb things to the
people I love.
I read for strength to help me when I
feel broken, discouraged, and afraid.
I read when I’m angry at the whole
I read when everything is going right.
I read to find hope.
I read because I’m made up not just of
skin and bones, of sights, feelings,
and a deep need for chocolate, but I’m
also made up of words.
Words describe my thoughts and what’s
hidden in my heart.
Words are alive–when I’ve found a
story that I love, I read it again and
again, like playing a favorite song
over and over.
Reading isn’t passive–I enter the
story with the characters, breathe
their air, feel their frustrations,
scream at them to stop when they’re
about to do something stupid, cry with
them, laugh with them.
Reading for me, is spending time with a
A book is a friend.
You can never have too many.”
― Gary Paulsen, Shelf Life: Stories by the Book