I’ve had a rather heated set of exchanges with my best friend Ann recently about our differing perspectives on why we read. She reads primarily to learn; I, to be entertained. She tells me “Oh, you should really pick up such and such a book about the failure of the medical system in our inner cities,” and I think hard pass. I read newspapers for news but, as I get in bed each night and pick up my Kindle, I read for joy. I wish to be transported, to be reminded of what makes life worth living. For her part, she shakes her head when I tell her how much I enjoyed a romance or a feel good novel–everyone, if you haven’t read Remarkably Bright Creatures you’re missing out on a literary hug–and tells me I am overly avoiding the grim parts of life.
Ann does read mysteries and I do read the occasional bummer book, but, in general, she and I read for different reasons. We are, I’ll concede, perhaps both somewhat extreme. So I ask this knowing that most people fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and read both kinds of books. But I am asking: why do you read? What is it that you find you most often long for from a book? How do you want to feel when you’ve turned the last page? #nojudgement
Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day.
In fiction, I read for enjoyment and like things that aren’t grim. Not necessarily fluff, but relationship forward and at least some characters that I can like. I do enjoy non-fiction and read mostly science to learn new things. And I politely disagree that non-fiction isn’t as difficult to keep track of. I’ll say it depends on what you are reading. There are fabulous science writers and scientists who are writers out there and they can really help you understand the world around you better. Which informs political topics for me more than I think when I first read a book. I live in MI – some science really helps inform the Flint water crisis for example. Which was just awful.
There was a very interesting article recently that said people who assumed reading non-fiction was the best way to use your brain and help stave off Alzheimer’s and Dementia was wrong.
Fiction actually requires your brain to do more because you have to remember characters, plot etc.
So while we are all enjoying our fiction of choice, we are also actively “exercising” it more than those who just read news or non-fiction.
I’ve always read. I cannot remember a time in my life when I could not or did not read for pleasure, and like others here, if there are words in front of me, I read them.
I read to be transported to lives different from my own, and to learn something new. What I don’t need from my pleasure reading is to be left feeling bad or scared or hopeless. I don’t even want to experience a lot of those emotions WHILE I’m reading (there is enough of those emotions from reading the news, thank you very much). I gravitate to fiction, usually romance or urban fantasy or historical fiction or young adult/coming of age stories. But I’ve also read some excellent nonfiction (usually history or biography) and remain open to doing so.
What I want when I turn the last page is to be devastated that I’ve reached the end, knowing that I can reread it again but never for the first time ever again.
The audio of REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES was fantastic. My favorite character was Marcellus, the octopus, and his narrator was perfection. Not a romance, but there is romance in it.
I primarily read fiction because it (usually) engrosses me and moves me more than nonfiction. A good novel takes me on a journey, to a place or a time or a situation I haven’t experienced. And I get to live the lives of people who are different from me, and imagine what it would be like if I were in their shoes. The best books move me, either to tears or laughter or empathy, even fear or anger. Sometimes authors write so beautifully, it takes my breath away.
My one book club frequently picks nonfiction books, and while I enjoy many of them and usually learn something, they are not my first choice. They just don’t draw me in the way fiction does. I usually do a lot of skimming as IMHO the authors put too much detail into their books. I know they did a lot of research and don’t want it to go to waste, but for me, a little goes a long way.
I too loved the audio. Marcellus was PERFECT!
The last line of your comment is an a-ha moment for me. I keep up with the news via newspapers closely. When I read non-fiction, there is often just too much detail for me because I’ve often already learned a fair amount about the topic elsewhere.
Yes, I agree! I also keep up with the news, so current event/political nonfiction is a hard pass. However, works dealing with historical events can be a grind, as can science focused books, biographies and autobiographies. I just attempted an autobiography for book club, and on the surface it sounded good, but there was way too much detail. If it were half as long, I would have liked it much better!
So here’s an idea for another blog: nonfiction books that are well-written and read like fiction. I am talking Laura Hillenbrand or Erik Larsen good.
I’d certainly enjoy recommendations of well written non-fiction.
I thought there was a blog post about this not all that long ago but I can’t seem to find it. Power search brings up reviews of books tagged Non Fiction but no blogs on the topic. Maybe someone on the back end could check it out and post a comment to bring it back to the comments section?
Here are two:
Desperately Seeking Non-Fiction Written by Women
Best Biography You’ve Ever Read
Yes, the blog about women authors is the one I was thinking about! Thanks Dabney!
Thank you for these— they will give me some ideas for my book club!
For entertainment, although I do utterly adore when that entertainment contains pithy insights into human nature and the world we live in.
“A weapon is a device for making your enemy change his mind.” Count Aral Vorkosigan by Lois McMaster Bujold.
Reading is so much a part-and-parcel of who I am, I’m not sure I would even know who I am if I wasn’t eternally either reading a book OR reading about books that I plan to read. Reading is an innate part of me—like the color of my eyes, the shape of my nose, the childhood scar on my knee, or the birthmark on my arm: things that let me know I am me. I read for pleasure, for joy, for escape, to learn something new or to go deeper into a subject I’m already lightly familiar with. What I long for in a work of fiction depends on the genre: for romance, I want an angsty journey that results in a well-deserved HFN/HEA. For mysteries (the genre after romance that I read most often), I want a tightly-plotted mystery that wraps up with no loose ends and no unresolved red herrings. When I turn the last page, I like to feel that I’ve spent time reading something entertaining and worthwhile; I especially love the occasional book that makes you wish you could spend even more time with the characters and their world. And I really know I’ve hit the jackpot when I finish a book and go right back to page one to start reading it all over again. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does…chef’s kiss!
Such a great way to describe the importance of reading!
I’m one of those somewhere in the middle people. I read both fiction and nonfiction. I read fiction, particularly historical romance and mysteries these days, for pleasure and also because they shed a light on humanity, people, places, and eras that I can only travel to through the power of imagination. Yes, sometimes it is pure escapism, but who cares. I read nonfiction, mostly history, to learn. I avoid self help books, memoirs, politics, and religion. I have read the occasional memoir, but I find they tend to be self serving (sorry Harry). I particularly enjoyed the memoirs by Mel Brooks and Tim Conway, both comedy legends. The thing that most impressed me in their books was that they had nothing but praise for all the people that they worked with over the years.
I have friends and family who don’t understand why I like romance (or fantasy, sci fi, etc.). I find it interesting that some people can’t suspend belief long enough to appreciate Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, yet will firmly believe in things like Qanon and other conspiracy theories. I certainly don’t think that life/the world is all fairy tale hearts and flowers (my guilty pleasure is true crime shows on ID Discovery), but I believe people need fantasy in their lives.
Because I must.
Yes, indeed. Compulsive reader here — if it is in front of me and has words on it, I will read it. I read the notices about hand washing in the doctor’s office, the book titles behind talking heads on tv, the brand of the shipping company on tractor trailers, and so on.
The things I choose to read are news, interdisciplinary nonfiction with a historical or history of science slant, and fiction with happy endings, which has mostly meant romance. My imagination easily brings fiction to life, and I watch little to no video/movie/television stuff. Different readers have different tastes and interests, but don’t expect to dictate what other readers should or should not read.
Maybe it is a combination of curiosity and imagination, but part of it is inexplicable. All I know is that sometime during elementary school, I became a compulsive reader, and I still am.
I relate to that description as well: compulsive reader. I used to think I was the only person who paid attention to book titles in a background but the pandemic and Zoom interviews certainly put paid to that idea! LOL.
I’m definitely a compulsive reader. Another form of text not already mentioned: any time I see a picture of a tattoo with text I try to read it.
Why, what, and how interact. I read a newspaper (Los Angeles Times) and magazines & newsletters (Science News and Skeptical Inquirer cover-to-cover, bits of many others) for news & brief non-fiction. I listen to and watch Great Courses while I exercise for longer non-fiction. I read longer non-fiction in many short segments, so it can take months to finish one book. I find non-fiction much easier to interrupt than fiction. I try to read new-to-me fiction in a single day, though sometimes a book is too long for me to start & finish the same day. I reread fiction squeezed in around the edges, with interruptions. The fiction I read is almost entirely genre: primarily Romances and Fantasy & Science Fiction, with a small sprinkling of Mysteries. I read fiction for pleasure / entertainment and humor. I try to avoid literary fiction, stories that focus too much on criminals, and stories that blatantly push political viewpoints.
I love the Great Courses! We’ve bought many over the years.
I discovered The Teaching Company (now The Great Courses https://www.thegreatcourses.com ) over 20 years ago and have listened to or watched over 200 courses. Only a very small number have been disappointing.
Why do you read? For entertainment, new knowledge, personal growth, solace (no depressing literary fiction, no thanks)
What is it that you find you most often long for from a book? A well told story; believable characters that I want to live with for a while. In non-fiction, new knowledge or some new twist or information on a subject I already know well and have an interest in.
How do you want to feel when you’ve turned the last page? That I did not waste my time. Or my money.
I read for enjoyment and often escapism. I occasionally read nonfiction books dealing with interesting history, or dealing with science issues or personalities. I don’t read full length books about distressing current (or past) events. I keep up with current events daily and read articles and essays, but I can’t sit down to a book length handling of stressful issues. And as Lil says below, I don’t do depressing literary fiction.
I used to feel inadequate or apologize for ” just reading mysteries” or for liking romances. Not anymore. I taught five children at home, taking them through tough parts of world and American history. I have children who are LGBTQ (one trans) and some with mental health challenges and chronic illness, so we all stay up to date on current events. Needless to say things in the news are upsetting, so when I want entertainment, I want some escape and happy endings.
Well, I suppose I read both for information and for enjoyment, history for information and fiction for pleasure. What I steer clear of is fiction for depression. My sister is always recommending books that are “really well written” and always seem to be real downers. There’s enough suffering to be found all over the place. I don’t need to wallow in it. And besides, if I read a depressing book in the evening, I’m going to have trouble sleeping.
This “if I read a depressing book in the evening, I’m going to have trouble sleeping.”
I read for escape/pleasure mostly: romance, mysteries, sci-fi…
I also enjoy non-fiction about certain periods on history. My husband will tell you I have a fascination with code-breaking, especially during WWII.