Yesterday I asked you why you read as this week’s weekly question. Today I am telling you why I read.
According to my mom, I’ve been an avid reader all my life. I doubt that’s true as I don’t think newborns are aware they’re being read to, just that someone is saying words to them. Which is a good thing because my mom admitted to reading highly inappropriate books to me when I was a baby.
But the fact remains that I’ve spent a healthy amount of time with my nose buried in a book. I willingly gave up all my toys when I was 10 so I could make more room for books and reading in my young life. In high school, I was known as the girl with the big books. I had English teachers telling me to not read too far into the assigned books. I spent an entire Spring break reading The Lord of the Rings.
For years, reading has just been part of my life, a big part of who I am. I mean, the tagline for this blog was Reader. Writer. Baker. Mother of 2. There’s a reason why the reader part came first.
There are so many reasons why people read. Some read as an escape and/or a way to unwind. Reading is an excellent way to learn about the world, people, and the self. Reading fires up the imagination, and gives people something to dream about. And it’s always nice to be able to chat intelligently about the hottest books of the moment.
But none of that is why I read. For a long time, I thought I read as a way to escape, a way to get away from life for a few moments, to immerse myself in a fictional place and peek into a fictional person’s life like some crazy voyeur. But it’s not.
I read to fit in.
I don’t mean that I read the most popular books just so I, a quiet literally little introvert, can edge her way into society. Actually, if you take a look at the books I’ve reviewed, they’re not the popular books. A lot of them are by self-published authors working hard to carve out a tiny space for themselves in the massive book world.
What I mean is that I read to find a temporary group of best friends, people who I know will understand me, want to get to know me, and accept me.
My life wasn’t filled with mean girls and bullying. Far from it. I’ve always been quiet, nice, and agreeable. I’ve never had a problem with finding a friend, haven’t been desperate for one since I was a young child. Unfortunately, I’m the type of person who actually prefers to stay on the periphery. Though it’s easy for people to say they like me and call me a friend, I struggle with making my voice heard, with verbalizing myself. My internal world is so rich that I can only adequately express myself in writing.
Which is where books come in. I can transplant the characters from the pages to my head. I have conversations with them. Over the years, I’ve fallen head over heels for more than just Mr. Darcy. Actually, I wasn’t a fan of Darcy. Give me Captain Wentworth from Persuasion any day. Ahem. Anyways, those fictional people got to know me just as I got to know them. They went everywhere with me, and we talked about everything. For however long it took me to read their story, they were my best friends, and they let me wander off and explore their world. And then I had to jump to the next book because I couldn’t stand rattling around my head by myself and listening to my own characters be demanding or indecisive or otherwise not quite ready for me to write their stories. They gave me no choice; I had to find other people to fill my head.
I read to find a place where I fit in, no matter how temporary. I may be happy on the periphery in real life, but I know it’s because I’m quite unlike most of the people I’ve ever known. I’ve found very few people that I actually fit in with, and I refuse to change who I am just to make friends. So I read. I read to find a place where I fit in. I’m happy.
Perhaps some people will call it unhealthy or unrealistic and say I need therapy. But I’m perfectly capable of navigating the real world. I just have a foot stuck in fiction, and no desire to pick it up.
I also read to have temporary role models.
No! I haven’t gone off the deep end. I read to have someone I can aspire to be, to integrate temporarily desirable traits into myself.
I don’t recall ever having a role model in my entire life. There were plenty of people I admired, but no one I wanted to emulate. I didn’t look to real people to guide me through life, to impart values and morals to me. I never even idolized anyone. I’m fairly confident that if I were to meet a celebrity, I would smile, say hello, and go on my merry way. After all, they’re just people who have had the good fortune to find incredible success.
Without knowing what I was ever doing, I looked to fictional characters to be my role models. For years, it was Nancy Drew. Fearless, smart, capable, reckless Nancy Drew. I wanted to be smart and capable just like her. I studied hard, and learned quite a lot from reading her books.
As I’ve read more and more and more, I’ve stockpiled characters in my head. Whenever I’ve needed a particular trait, I’ve turned to specific genres and characters. I’ll replay their stories in my head, I’ll consult with them, I’ll look to them for guidance.
But even though I have a healthy stockpile dating back over 20 years, I continue to devour books. I may be in my early 30s, but I could still use boosts from fictional characters.
When I need to be thoughtful, inquisitive, and daring, especially if something is proving to be a conundrum, I turn to mysteries, especially my favorite cozy mystery sleuth Clare Cosi in Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries series.
When I need to be strong, adventurous, and stubborn, and the need to feel the frustration that comes with being female, I turn to fantasy and science fiction, especially the dystopian because those can be seriously twisted.
When I feel unsure and need a journey back to myself, I go straight for women’s fiction. And, when I need a laugh and seriously lighthearted moments, I pick up something in chick lit.
When I feel a desire and need to be prim and proper, I look for my Jane Austen books. I mean, I pick up a classic. Preferably by Austen.
This is why I read.