What We Get Out of Reading

The cool thing about reading is that when you read a short story or you read something that takes your mind and expands where your thoughts can go, that’s powerful.
-Taylor Swift

The other night, my friend and I were discussing what it is exactly that we get out of reading. It’s different, we agreed, from watching a good movie or hearing a good song. A good book is a unique experience. What is it about reading that makes it different from all other forms of entertainment and information? Here are some thoughts.

Entertainment

Probably a lot of the folks reading this entry think of reading as something done for pleasure. Sure, students read assigned materials for classes, and many professions, literary or not, involve daily reading. However, when we talk about reading, we think of books we like or assume others enjoy.

Entertainment is definitely a chief motivator in reading. We seek out stories and characters that engage us, as well as writing and language that appeal to us. Whether it’s a particular genre, style, or medium, we all have our favorites, our rainy day reads we curl up with. Reading can be an absorbing activity that helps us to break away from the stress of everyday life. I regularly turn to fantastical adventures and feel-good love stories to block out the less magical experience of public transportation.

Information

Alternatively, reading can enhance our understanding and experience of world events and information. For people looking for comprehensive sources on news, history, technology, instructions—reading is often trusted as a reliable source of information.  Tying into entertainment, fans of nonfiction often get both enjoyment and information out of their reading experience.

Interested in picking up a new hobby, but not sure what you want to do? A trip through the library offers access to books covering all kinds of activities, often with tips and tricks on getting started. It costs less than signing up for a class right away and gives you options to window-shop a bit before settling on something you think fits you.

Inspiration

For those of us on the writing side, reading other books can give us a sense of what we aspire to create in our own work. We can experience different types of characters, conflicts, and settings, and reading often offers more opportunities to digest this information than seeing it played out on a screen or stage. We also have the experience of seeing the world through different perspectives. A good read can inspire us to try writing the up-close-and-personal first person perspective, or to test the waters with more experimental styles.

Not a writer? It doesn’t mean that reading doesn’t inspire you. That close connection to the narrative brings together readers and the worlds writers have introduced to them. You may sit down to a quick read and find an hour later that you simply must go to an indie concert, start growing a vegetable garden, or befriend a squishy dragon. Especially the dragon one. I think everyone needs to look into that.

…and What Not to Do

Likewise, writers may find that certain characters, story lines, or writing styles don’t mesh with them. Readers may come across material that doesn’t capture their interest on any level. Just because it’s not our cup of tea doesn’t mean there’s nothing to glean from our not-favorite books. Your writing and reading perspective will expand and specialize with exposure to different books. Reading the same thing all the time will only limit us.

Design and Illustration

Not only are there plenty of art and photography books, but sometimes the layout is just something else on its own. Have you ever picked up a book just because of the sheer brilliance of the cover? Or flipped through and noted a sharp new font, fun chapter illustrations, or funky page numbering? Geek out, my friends; your books don’t just need the story in their pages to connect.

Accomplishment

Admit it, reading a good book, a bad book, a long book, a hard book, a fun book—you get a little something out of it. It’s pretty rare to hear someone talking about the sense of accomplishment they get out of watching a two-hour movie, but polishing off a book is always good for a little ego boost. You did it! You completed something that brought a different perspective, a new story, or a smile to your life that wasn’t there before. No matter how old we get, we’re never done growing, and perhaps no activity better showcases that than reading.

Revisiting

That one line that got to you? That one character who is your spirit animal? That one chapter title that was beyond flawless? Flipping through a book takes only a minute, and you are back in that world, in those words, to revisit them. Admit it, there’s a special little glow when you look back on past reads. Sometimes a reread helps us to pick up on clues or details we missed before, and sometimes stories are as comfortable to slip back into as our favorite sweater. The experience can always be new, even when it’s old.

What do you get out of reading? What makes books different to you? Be sure to tell me in the comments.

Happy reading!

xo P

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