Two things to point out in the wake of my weekend post "Is the Sky Falling?". First, NYTimes book critic Motoko Rich had an essay on Sunday tackling the question of why and how people "become readers." She writes "The gestation of a true, committed reader is in some ways a magical process, shaped in part by external forces but also by a spark within the imagination. Having parents who read a lot helps, but is no guarantee. Devoted teachers and librarians can also be influential. But despite the proliferation of book groups and literary blogs, reading is ultimately a private act." Rich also suggests "the right book at the right time," "the discovery that a book’s character is like you, or thinks and feels like you", or "the embrace of the Other."
Then David Mehegan over at the Globe went after the question in an Off the Shelf post yesterday; his theory about why people read centers on "power, in that when you read, you are aggressively seeking and getting the learning or the story, rather than sitting passively and being told, as the illiterate person must learn by being told. If you can read, you can go on your own to find out a truth, but if you are not a reader, you can only hope that you hear it, in person or on television or radio. This is what people mean when they say that reading is a kind of adventure. People who love to read, in my hypothesis, tend to be the kind who crave adventure, even if they're too shy to go abroad, or lack the funds."
I'm not sure Mehegan's theory is universal (I know plenty of 'adventurers' who also read voraciously, and some readers who seem quite craving-free), but I think he's onto something for many of us. Reading is a way to experience times, places, people, events that we cannot physically reach, whether that's Hogwarts, or colonial New England, or the French Revolution, or the parallel universes in Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (my current read, incidentally), or whatever strikes your fancy. It can be difficult to explain to non-readers the rush - yes, the power, that a good story well told can bring to bear.
But we know it well, don't we? And although it might not be easy, as I said the other day, we must do our best to share it, that others might join our adventures.