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*****= An all-time favorite
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Why Read?

by Sondra Eklund

I’m a book nut, a certified biblioholic.  However, I’m happy with my addiction because I believe it does me good.

When I was in college, I once went for several weeks without reading fiction.  I decided that I would never do that again.  I believe that reading gives me perspective on life.  It helps me look beyond my own little story.

Here are some quotations from great authors who help me rationalize my habit:

“Story is the closest we human beings can come to truth.”—Madeleine L'Engle in Glimpses of Grace

“For me, reading—and I don't mean just inspirational, devotional reading—has been and is a spiritual practice.  It is my partner in the conversation we are always having with ourselves (our interiority), influencing who I've thought I was, who I wanted to be, who I am and am called to be.”—Nancy M. Malone in Walking a Literary Labyrinth

“Sometimes, as can happen in contemplative prayer, we're taken completely out of ourselves as we read, and return to ourselves refreshed.  In any case, like our own interior conversation, what we read remains totally within us, all the while engaging us in conversation with another human mind, and thus subtly instructing, refining, giving form ot the soliloquy that is our interiority.”—Nancy M. Malone in Walking a Literary Labyrinth

“That is why I read, I guess, to stay alive, to be as fully alive as I can be.  In books, almost the whole world and everything in it are available to me to feed that life.”—Nancy M. Malone in Walking a Literary Labyrinth

“I read fiction.  I read it not because I expect to find ready-made answers to my questions, but because I want to understand human life, both as it is and as it might be.  And in good fiction I can observe the characters asking—or failing to ask, or wrongly answering—the questions that make us authentic human beings, true selves, the questions that are the very stuff of our lives, and the very stuff of literature, both tragic and comic.”—Nancy M. Malone in Walking a Literary Labyrinth

“To put it in religious language, and to speak for myself, the books that I value have edified me, in the root meaning of the word; they have built me up and enlarged me.  I am a wiser, more tolerant woman for having read them, less hard on others and even on myself.”—Nancy M. Malone in Walking a Literary Labyrinth

“I can hardly conceive how limited my perception would be without the books I have been privileged to read, how superficial my understanding of others, how undeveloped my sympathies.  And I mean here, especially, without fiction, which puts flesh and blood on, and soul and feeling in, other human beings.  Precisely because of its appeal to my imagination, which Webster’s dictionary defines as ‘the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality,’ in fiction I come to know and understand people I may not have met otherwise.  And thus I am persuaded to a more compassionate, generous, and loving response in my life beyond books.”—Nancy M. Malone in Walking a Literary Labyrinth

“But reading can also, in a deeper and more inchoate fashion, give us hope.  Hope that there is a God whose extravagant fecundity is the source of the mysterious creative impulse of the artists among us.  That the care and attention writers lavish on their characters are bestowed on us by our Creator.  And that there is in life the kind of wholeness achieved in a great work of literature—a master narrative in which, though we cannot always see how, your story and mine have their part.”—Nancy M. Malone in Walking a Literary Labyrinth

“Reading helps me to be my true self, the self that sees the world, others, myself, God, with the faith that [Bernard Lonergan] calls ‘the eye of love.’”—Nancy M. Malone in Walking a Literary Labyrinth

“Reading was like breathing fresh ocean air, or eating tomatoes from old man Grbac's garden.  My parents, and librarians along the way, taught me about the space between words; about the margins, where so many juicy moments of life and spirit and friendship could be found.  In a library, you can find small miracles and truth, and you might find something that will make you laugh so hard that you will get shushed, in the friendliest way.”—Anne Lamott in Plan B:  Further Thoughts on Faith

“Reading has always brought me pure joy.  I read to encounter new worlds and new ways of looking at our own world.  I read to enlarge my horizons, to gain wisdom, to experience beauty, to understand myself better, and for the pure wonderment of it all.  I read and marvel over how writers use language in ways I never thought of.  I read for company, and for escape.  Because I am incurably interested in the lives of other people, both friends and strangers, I read to meet myriad folks and enter their lives—for me, a way of vanquishing the 'otherness' we all experience.”—Nancy Pearl in Book Lust

“At its best, story provides us with ways to see ourselves, ways to affirm our stuggles to overcome adversities, ways to help us reach out to others and forge relationships.  Story creates an intimacy that is remembered in mind, body, and soul for a lifetime. . . .  In the storytelling experience we bind ourselves to others.  We need to share our stories because in so doing we hope to be understood, and being understood we are no longer so alone.”—Julius Lester in On Writing for Children and Other People

“Reading transported me all over the world; it entertained me and calmed me down when I was rattled from family arguments or a rough day at school. . . . My mind became roomier.”—Mary Pipher in Letters to a Young Therapist

“Through reading, we intensify our capacity for pleasure, for sympathy, and for comprehension.  What we read utterly changes our relation to the world.  There is a thirst in all readers for stories that teach us about the world and ourselves.”—Laura Furman and Elinore Standard in Bookworms

“Books and writers live on, an endless stream of stories and storytellers waiting for me to jump into the current of their words, to swim through their images, and to be swept away in their flow.  I cannot imagine life without books any more than I can imagine life without breathing.”—Terry Brooks in Sometimes the Magic Works

“It is fortunate to have had all my life this passion for studying and enjoying literature and for trying to add a bit to it as interestingly as I can.  This passion has given me much joy, it has given me friends who care for the same things, it has given me employment, escape from boredom, everything.”—Elizabeth Hardwick, quoted in Where Books Fall Open

“I also think of reading as an act of faith, a hope I will discover something remarkable about ordinary life, about myself.  And if the writer and the reader discover the same thing, if they have that connection, the act of faith has resulted in an act of magic.  To me, that’s the mystery and the wonder of both life and fiction—the connection between two unique individuals who discover in the end that they are more the same than they are different.” —Amy Tan, in The Opposite of Fate

“The best stories do change us.  They help us live interesting lives.” —Amy Tan, in The Opposite of Fate

“A great work of the imagination is one of the highest forms of communication of truth that mankind has reached.”—Madeleine L’Engle, in Madeleine L’Engle:  Herself

“It is not only in the religious writings of various peoples that I find truth.  I find that my forbearance is widened, my understanding of human potential expanded, as I read fiction, even if it is only to disagree with a narrow or ugly view of life, or to turn away in discontent.  The fiction to which I turn and return is that which has a noble understanding of God’s purpose for all that has been created.” —Madeleine L’Engle, in Madeleine L’Engle:  Herself

“Children love story because it is true.” —Madeleine L’Engle, in Madeleine L’Engle:  Herself

“When I think of the children’s books I love best, I realize that they’re written on a great many different levels.  Now the first level is story.  A good children’s book must hold the reader’s interest.  It must be first and foremost a good story that will make the reader keep wanting to go on turning the pages.  But underneath that good story is buried treasure.  No one person will find all of the treasure, but each will discover special joys.” —Madeleine L’Engle, in Madeleine L’Engle:  Herself

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.  What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you.  Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave.  They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.  They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life—wonderful lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat.  And quality of attention:  we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention.  An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift.”—Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation.  They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life:  they feed the soul.  When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored.  We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again.  It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea.  You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” —Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird

“The greatest gift is the passion for reading.  It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind.  It is a moral illumination.”—Elizabeth Hardwick, quoted in Where Books Fall Open

“Books offer life, distilled.  They have the power to change minds and change moods.”—Carol Weston, quoted in Where Books Fall Open

“The whole story, paradoxically enough, strengthens our relish for real life.  This excursion into the preposterous sends us back with renewed pleasure to the actual.”—C. S. Lewis, in Of Other Worlds

“[The fairy tale] stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth.  He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods:  The reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.” —C. S. Lewis, in Of Other Worlds

“Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” —C. S. Lewis, in Of Other Worlds

“If good novels are comments on life, good stories of this sort (which are very much rarer) are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience.” —C. S. Lewis, in Of Other Worlds

“Fiction is like wrestling with angels—you do not expect to win, but you do expect to come away from the experience changed.”—Jane Yolen, Take Joy

“You can practise the art of empathy very well in Pride and Prejudice, and in all the novels of Jane Austen, and it is this daily practice that we all need, or we will never be good at living, as without practice we will never be good at playing the piano.”—Fay Weldon, in Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen

 “Story is the closest we human beings can come to truth.” —Madeleine L’Engle, in Madeleine L’Engle:  Herself

“So I turn again and again to story to retrieve the sense of wonder.  Story does help us to bind our fragmented selves together, does help us to recognize ourselves in all our terrible and marvelous complexity.  Story affirms that there are constants, despite the change and decay in all we see around us.” —Madeleine L’Engle, in Madeleine L’Engle:  Herself

“Story makes us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.  Why does anybody tell a story?  It does indeed have something to do with faith, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.” —Madeleine L’Engle, in Madeleine L’Engle:  Herself

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”—Philippians 4:8

Sonder is a German prefix meaning "special."

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved. 

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