I am often asked why I love reading so much. In fact, more and more recently, my obsession with books is met with befuddlement and confusion and leads to questions, such as:
‘Why don’t you just watch the movie?’
‘What’s so good about reading anyway?’
‘Why don’t you read something worthwhile?’
And, quite frankly, I’m worried at the state of the world if ‘what’s so good about reading anyway?’ is treated as a valid question.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!
So I have written this small essay. Because I’m more eloquent on paper. And because, apparently, spluttering and raging incoherently doesn’t quite get the point across.
It all started with my granddad. He lived in Iran and came over to the UK twice, each time for six months. When he was here, he’d pick me up from school (I was a teeny person then) and taught me to read. He was my favourite person on this planet and by sitting with me for a few minutes each day, he opened my eyes to a new world through books.
Suddenly, meaningless lines and squiggles become words. Words transformed into stories, people, places and ideas. And, I mean, that in itself is amazing, right?! Once I started reading, my brain could create images in my head with nothing more than letters to work from.
Fast forward a few more years and, at school, my best friend became my personal library. She introduced me to what we now call YA (they were just called books back then!). Her books tended to have bad ass female characters that stood up for themselves and saved the world. And, for a chubby Iranian kid with bushy hair and eyebrows, the ability to become someone else – even in my imagination – was incredible. I can’t count how many of those protagonists became role models through my troublesome teenage years.
And now, I just can’t stop. Why would I? Reading allows me to experience life through the eyes of another person. Your forced to follow another’s feelings and actions – no matter how much you scream at the page, the character will not follow your way of thinking (I tried a few times… it didn’t work). They will do what they think is right.
What better way to learn empathy? Talented authors inspire empathy for their characters, even if it feels uncomfortable (think Humbert Humbert in Lolita). And while reading doesn’t mean you’ll agree with different perspectives, it shows you diverse angles on lives that you’ve never known and offers you the opportunity to understand them.
Even just the experience of reading a book is, for me, pretty incredible. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten so lost in a book that hours pass and I’ve not noticed? Or so involved that I’ve looked up and forgotten where I was for a moment?
No other form of creative work – be it film, theatre, music, or art – can immerse you so completely into its story. For everything else, you are a spectator looking in. Images and sounds, even the sense of touch (for interactive art) is decided for you. Your job is simply to be a witness to it.
But a book is just a bunch of pages with words on it. The story might be there but the images and sounds – that’s all up to you. Your job is to fill in the gaps between lines, to build the pictures and the sounds. You create the world in your imagination.
…Remind me again why I shouldn’t read?