Why Do We Read??

As the books pile up in our house, we are now forced to get rid of some or resell them. The collection has multiplied over the years as our whole family has become inveterate readers. We are so content (even on vacations) to simply pull out our books and read. So it got me thinking recently: why do we all read?

Of course, we read to be entertained during the day and to calm our minds before bed at night. But there is more. I think most of us are looking for something as we read, searching and hopeful. I know I am always on the hunt with a book, but exactly what?

In my early years, I was after knowledge. I hungered to know about the world, about life, so that I could figure myself out. It was always a flight into high intellectual plains, one that I often charted alone. I remember walking into the Duke library (one of the largest university libraries in America) and feeling that if I could just read the major books here, perhaps I could solve the riddle of life, especially mine.

As I got older, I began to read, especially stories, because it awakened me in unpredictable ways. I was on the hunt to resurrect my heart from years of self-imposed quarantine. Here I found myself identifying with characters, like Alyosha in Brothers Karamazov, or wanting to be like heroic ones, such as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. In the identification, I found that the stories helped clarify my own life story.

But recently, a new reason to read suddenly struck me: I read to connect to the writer himself, crossing barriers of time and culture. It’s to know and feel his pain and sorrow, his joy and wonder, so that I won’t feel so isolated in my own world. Perhaps some of this has emerged as I have become an author. I recently read about Van Gogh’s longing to connect to others through his painting. Although he was not an author, I found myself suddenly weeping. Yes, I understood Van Gogh. I too long to connect through my writing, and I imagine other authors experience the same ache.

Perhaps all of this musing is an echo of the Lord himself, the great Author and Creator. He has left his fingerprints everywhere for us (even in books!), hoping that we will reach out and find him, for he is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27). He longs for us to know Him and to feel known by Him.

So go ahead, open a book today and read. Who knows what may happen!

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