On why I read

by Anita Menon

Reading for pleasure

Apart from the most inextricable advantages of reading that we have known as children, there are new advantages that one becomes aware of as a grown up. As children we are told that reading increases the vocabulary, aids imagination, helps build opinions and perspectives and helps us build empathy for others. We grow up reading certain kinds of books because they are seem more helpful to us in our quest of life than others that merely provide pleasure. As a parent of a 5 year old who is learning to read now provided me this opportunity to contrast between the two worlds of readers – the children and the adults. The school that my daughter goes to, she is learning to how to read first opposed to the way I was taught reading in school – ironically – through writing first. The round about way of learning how to read, did not dim my enthusiasm for books because I sternly believe a lot of it is to do with how your parents look at reading as an activity. As a child, a teenager and later as a grown up, I was always encouraged to pick up books for sheer reading pleasure. If I didn’t enjoy it, I could just keep it aside and pick up another one. I firmly believe, your love story with books can be a success, if and only if, you look at books from as something that gives you immense pleasure and in whose love you can drown for several hours or even minutes in a day. A book needs to be that companion that can never allow you to feel lonely in a crowd or even when you are by yourself at home without a soul around. Thankfully, this act of pleasuring yourself even in a crowd is not looked down upon. Rather, people see a shiny halo around the head of the reader in a coffee shop or even a crowded train.

Reading to write

When I started writing a blog, I found that reading books  (even completely unrelated ones) helped stir the imagination and possibilities of topics to write  threw themselves up at me. Week after week, I was able to push myself into creating new content. Before I go into how reading helps writing, I have to let you in on a little secret about myself.

I read regularly. I hoard books like an ant that hoards food for the winters. I am stingy about giving my books away. Even to charity.

Reading everyday, opened up windows to new situations to describe and explain it with analogies ( which is my absolutely favourite thing to do).  On days, when I haven’t read, I feel that my passion for writing dwindles like a candle in the wind. Before the candle extinguishes, I get back to my reading to get my writing on track. Once you start writing more regularly than you ever have, your memories flash back bringing back to you styles of different kinds of writers. That serves as a fresh reservoir of inspiration.

Reading for exposure

People often question me, how on earth do I enjoy reading non -fiction like essays and long compositions. Fiction is flirtatious and keeps you interested in it because of the chase for as long as the affair lasts. But reading non-fiction is like the institution of marriage. It is a steep climb up and only when you reach the peak will you be able to enjoy the breathtaking view. Essays are life’s unfettered experiences, opinions and thoughts of writers and to read them is to understand the world more deeply.

But many people find it difficult to read non-fiction because I believe their foundation is weak. You did not start reading for the pure pleasure of it or did not continue reading for the pursuit of pleasure. Somewhere, they lost focus and reading became a chore. That is when you cannot make the transition from one kind of reading to the other; in this case from fiction to non-fiction.

Reading non-fiction has allowed me to gain a lot of ground as a reader. While I extol my own reading prowess, I will like to add that I haven’t made all the transitions yet. I am yet to make my journey into the world of poetry. I am yet to develop the sensitivity towards the gentle art of reading and hopefully writing poems. Poetry requires patience and whenever I have attempted to read poetry, I have felt my attention falter in several directions with the words flying off the pages of the book. But it is a journey I intend to make in my own good time.

Reading for experience

If there just a single reason to keep reading, it would be for the experience it provides. A book / Books are your one-stop-shop for all possible experiences and emotions which you may not have the opportunity to experience in a single lifetime. To be able to feel deeply for Maryam’s character in Khaled Hosseini’s ‘ A thousand splendid suns’ or  to be inspired by Alma Whittakar, the intrepid botanist from Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘The signature of all things’  is the opportunity that a book brings to my mind’s eye. A book allows you to be arrogant when it comes to dealing with life situations.

I have experienced the pain, laughed and cried, both at the same time because the book and the writer made the worlds they conjured seem real. I believe that a simulated experience is worth having than having no experience at all. Reading books prepares you for the world and you can ride through its treacherous roads with the experience of others.

When we as parents or grow ups are seen by our children, reading and enjoying, it inspires them to pick up a book and flip through it. If as a parent, you do not set an example for your child, you are doing a great disservice. Also, I believe that spineless electronic reading may take over and the hard bound books may go extinct so make sure that your child enjoys the feel of the book in her hand because that experience is unlike any other.