Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reading for Pleasure & Imagination

We read to know that we are not alone.
—C.S. Lewis [1898-1963], English writer, professor & literary critic

There are worse crimes than burning books.
One of them is not reading them.
—Joseph Brodsky [1940-96], Russian-Jewish Nobel laureate in literature

Except a living man there is nothing more wonderful than a book!  A message to us from the dead, - from human souls whom we never saw, who lived perhaps thousands of miles away; and yet these, on those little sheets of paper, speak to us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers.  
—Charles Kingsley [1819-1875], English novelist & historian

One of life's great pleasures is reading books. Whether it is popular fiction, literary novels, non-fiction, science fiction, or historical fiction, reading is not only an act of learning, but also a pleasure that carries you far through life's difficulties. To read and to love reading, particularly imaginative literature, will often dictate how successful an integrated human you will become.

In How to Read and Why, Harold Bloom, a professor at Yale University, explains both reading's importance and its pleasures:
Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you, because it is, at least in my experience, the most healing of pleasures. It returns you to otherness, whether in yourself or in friends, or in those who may become friends. Imaginative literature is otherness, and as such alleviates loneliness.
Reading early and young fosters a life-long love of books. I have instilled in my children a love of books. So far, two of my children are reading, and reading without much encouragement from me. My youngest two-year-old is not yet reading, but he is surrounded by books, his children's books that we read to him regularly, and my books, which when he's older, he's welcome to dip into.

Victor Hugo [1882-85], French novelist and playwright:“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” (circa 1884).
Reading carries many advantages, notably improving one's vocabulary, speech and critical thinking. And if literature is your love, you gain access to a rich literary language. Of course, many academics in today's humanities and English literature departments, focused on modern literary theories, take a dim view on reading for enjoyment and fun.

There might be another reason why reading is important, Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard University, explains: "Babies are born with the instinct to speak, the way spiders are born with the instinct to spin webs. You don't need to train babies to speak; they just do. But reading is different." In other words, someone has teach children how to read, and how to instill a love of reading and books in children. The sooner the better, I would think.

One of my favourite quotes from Dr. Seuss is: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." Reading allows travelling on a budget. Reading allows exploring other words, to imagine yourself elsewhere. Reading fiction allows you to imagine without worrying whether you have the right answer.

With so many clear advantages, including the sheer pleasure of opening a book (or computer), and to learn something new, reading offers so much, including discovery, says Clifton Fadiman, the noted writer and critic: "When you read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than there was before."


  1. Thank you for the post, Perry. It's always sheer pleasure. Do you think there are situations when reading is harmful? Are there good and bad books and what to read? We've had a discussion with my colleagues the other day. I need to say that they do read. The subject was one of Russian contemporary authors. I have not even tried to read his books as they are said to be absolutely inhumane. His name is Vladimir Sorokin. I might try and get down to reading his works to understand the so called "depth of his philosophy" and "different angle he gives to the world in his works thus expanding the boundaries". The question I ask myself is why? Why reading fruits of somebody's sick imagination? There are millions of books to read. How to choose the worthy book, that's the question.

  2. Dear Ictcl:

    Thank you for your comments. I will look into the writings of Vladimir Sorokin. You raise a valid point about what one ought to read. I would suspect the answer lies in a combination of experience, history and state of mind. I can always point to the classics of literature and philosophy as my comfort and, which I have argued elsewhere, as important to development of coherent ideas. This is especially important when one struggles for human dignity.

  3. It might seem inappropriate but I cannot but ask you for advice. When I am in a store I could look through the book and understand if it is worth reading. Now living in Russia I have to order books in English online. This morning I was browsing online stores and simply could not make up my mind about what to take. There are thousands of books! I wonder if you have some "must read" list. I'd be happy to get a recommendation from you.
    Thanks in advance!

  4. Dear Ictcl:

    My blog lists some of the many books I have read. These are a good indication of the books that I would recommend. Reading, of course, is a personal choice. But this list is a good start.


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