Last night, I was really enjoying Ann Patchett’s memoir Beauty and Truth as I dozed off in bed, and it got me thinking about why I love good books so much. Nothing in the world – and I think I really do mean nothing – gives me as much pleasure as a really good book. So here are the top ten reasons I love them.
10. They give me a place to go that is outside of myself. When my life seems too much with me, or when I need a break from thinking through something, books allow me moments of escape. They require my attention more than TV, and they grip me more than any movie could.
9. They introduce me to people and places I may never meet or visit. I think of Barry Lopez’s essay on road kill in his book About a Life. I am certain I will never take a road trip where I stop to bury or at least move aside every animal killed by a car because I feel such compassion for them. Or Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert; it’s unlikely that I’ll have the time or cash to travel to Italy, then India, then Bali, but I went with her when she did it.
8. They remind me that sometimes there are actual products that come from hard work. So much of life is about relationships – in my personal life, in teaching – and while relationships can be highly rewarding and wonderful, they don’t usually produce a product. With a book, I can actually see the work that a writer has put in, and I find that very inspiring.
7. My ideas of what humanity should be are shaped by books. From the Bible, to The Chronicles of Narnia, to Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, to Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, books are the way I most easily and privately bear witness to what is glorious and painful about humanity. They set my gauge for what people could be and what I should be (or what I should not become).
6. Some of my best friends are people (and animals) I’ve met in books. Peter in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Charles Wallace inA Wrinkle in Time. Asher in Chaim Potok’s My name is Asher Lev and The Gift of Asher Lev. (Interestingly, the characters that came easiest to mind where young males. I”ll have to ponder that one.)
5. I love the smell and weight of pages in my hand. That’s it. I just love it.
4. Books give me the chance to study craft and style almost without noticing. As I’ve said, I learned almost everything I know about writing from reading books, and I didn’t read to learn how to write. Most of the learning came through simple observation and emulation.
3. I love the lessons that books can teach me. This is different than books with morals, like The Left Behind Series; I really hate those. But books that can show me some insight about humanity stir something in me. I think of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany or the essays in JoAnn Beard’s collection The Boys of My Youth.
2. The feeling of accomplishment and, sometimes, of deep sadness when a book is finished keeps me seeking that thrill again and again.
1. C.S. Lewis once said, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Well, that’s the core isn’t it.
– C.S. Lewis