reading love

Why We Read: Musings from a Bookworm

By Nicole Stanton, Program Coordinator

This week I spoke to a friend and fellow recent college graduate, who claims to have been transformed into a book lover. His brain is fueled by facts and numbers, and convincing him to read for entertainment has been a near impossible sell – until now. As thrilled as I am to have another book-worm in my midst, I can’t help but wonder, why now? When finding reading time each day feels like a fierce battle against Facebook, Netflix, and Gmail, what draws people to the age-old pastime?

There are some profoundly grim facts out there about reading. For instance, employers report a serious decline in reading comprehension amongst employees. Only 54% of 9-year-olds read for fun. Oh, and an increasing number of adults read less than one book a year. A year! This data makes my stomach sink. I refuse to believe that all hope is lost. It is, of course, Aspen Words’ mission, and the mission of many others, to keep society’s gaze towards the literary landscape. With that goal in mind, I find myself wondering, ‘’what turns us into bookworms, returning to words again and again?

That “thing” that brings us back to the bookshelf seems to me a great mystery. Reading, after all, is a deeply personal endeavor. I do though, have some musings as to how a person can be transformed into a serial reader.

Finding the right book, at the right time, can feel a bit like magic. Ravenously devouring a story and mourning its ending can be like falling in love for the first time. It’s a bit like being swooped into a vortex, only to be left feeling lost and confused when the spinning stops. Once you find that one book that knocks you off your feet, it’s hard not to wonder about the others and whether they too could feel like that first literary love affair.

For some, the appeal of reading can be that of looking into a mirror. When you find a character enduring similar struggles, heartaches, joys, and successes to your own, a book has done the impossible. It has allowed you to look at your own life from the outside as a careful observer. Author Sherman Alexie describes the importance of this experience: “The younger you are when you do that, the more likely you’re going to be a serious reader. It really is about finding yourself in a book.”

There are others who are drawn to books that let them escape from themselves. Instead of self-identifying with a character, they can instead forget themselves in the thrill of the unknown, in the embrace of the “other.” These are, of course, the fantasy lovers; the people who dive into worlds far from their own with the intention of getting lost.

I suppose there are also those who use reading to create a feeling of belonging. Reading something recommended by a dear friend or Oprah or the New York Times feels comforting. Being armed with a best seller list when walking into the abyss of the bookstore can be a saving grace. For these folks, reading is also about keeping up with the trends.

I can’t help but think though, that all of the possible pleasures that reading books provides could just as easily be found watching Game of Thrones or Scandal. I feel a bit of panic about the decline of reading. However, I think it’s crucial for book lovers to recognize how essential other cultural conversations can be. Television and film are in many ways much more inclusive than reading. People do not need a formal education to engage with these mediums in the same way they do to engage with literature. Visual literacy has the ability to bridge cultural gaps between socioeconomic classes by eliminating the limitations of words.

With all that said, I don’t think we need to worry too much about the supposed death of books. They’ve got a heck of a lot of competition, but they’re also the inspiration for much of the screen-filled world. They’ll make it. Aspen Words’ hope is that more people will be transformed into book lovers each day, connecting with the immense joy found in turning new pages and finding new corners of the world.

Discover your next beloved book at the Winter Words author series, January – April, 2016! Tickets and passes on sale now.

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