Why I Read

MikeachimLiterature, Writing21 Comments


I read because I’d be a bloody awful writer if I didn’t.

I read because all the writers I admire are clearly better at writing than I am – and most of the time, beyond the most obvious metrics (where they get published; how many books they sell) it’s not immediately obvious why. I love reading things that floor me with their brilliance, and I hate it too, because they’re a form of magic. They work on me in ways I don’t understand, ignoring the laws I cling to, bewildering me into a stunned, brow-furrowed “How…HOW..?” As a reader, I love feeling like that; as a writer, it’s agony. I want to know how to do it too! Or – correction – I want to understand what it takes to be able to write like that, to see how a fellow human being could think and express themselves in that way, given time, experience, bravery, reckless creativity and astounding amounts of hard work. Magicians anger me. Oh Come On, I yell at the page, You Breathe The Same Air, Dammit. And the only way to get a feel for how truly magical writing is created is to read it, read it, read it until you’re starting to think the same way. You need to learn the grammar of magic before you can cast your own spells.

I read because I love being outwitted by people who seem to know how I expect stories to end. (Bastards.)

I read because people are smart. The best way to really grasp how smart people are is to read a lot of their words. Brevity is admirable. Boil it down to 140 characters? Yay for challenge. But there is a hard limit on the amount of complexity you can deliver in a tweet, in a 500 word blog post, in a page of text. Some people write huge chunks of text because they’re windbags (I often suspect I’m one of them) – but some people write long because they think deep, and that’s the only way to fit it all in without losing anything. There are more of these people in the world than the average Internet junkee would like you to believe.

I read because I’m training myself to read. I’m also training myself to think. When you read something that is both long and tightly written, it trains your brain, not just for strength (which you can get from those blog posts, tweets, etc.) but for stamina. Longform is cardio. This is why I have my phone’s Evernote filled with articles from Longreads, Byliner and the like, and why I try to read at least a couple a day. Following an argument through 5,000, 10,000, 50,000 words is something of a marathon, but it’s good for your brain. You will learn new skills from having that burden laid upon your mind, and you will toughen up. You’ll also appreciate good editing when you read a few clunkers. It’s all good.

I read because I’m out of touch. Most days, I’m in my own little world, juggling freelance writing work, trying to get out the house despite the weather, chewing my lip over my finances, working out what to do next, and trying to hack through client work so I can get to the writing I love best. I’m not travelling right now. It’s lonely – but in a self-obsessed rather than angsty way. I love listening. I get sick of hearing my own thoughts as they whirl around like my brain is on a spin cycle. I need input as much as I need to output. And the world is a marvellous place, filled with wonders every single day. I’m sat there editing something for someone, and on the other side of the world a freaking meteor is exploding over Russia, making one of the loudest noises in human history. I read about it on BBC News, and spend 2 hours with my jaw on the floor, mesmerized by the videos¬†as they go up. To read is to have a love-affair with the world. I’m besotted.

I read because I still don’t know enough about the world, and reading is the quickest, cheapest and second most enjoyable way of addressing that. Reading is training for becoming a good, well-rounded, well-adjusted human being. (Well, usually.)

I read because it’s like mind-reading, and I’m super-nosy.

I read because my brain can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality.

I read because I write. If I had my shit together, I’d read half the time, write half the time – that’s the golden ratio. I don’t have my shit together. (Yet.) That’s the lifestyle I want, balanced with a good dollop of outdoorsy living. That’s what I’m chasing. That’s what I want.

And I read because you write.

But mainly, I read because I love words, wherever they are.

Image: markcbrennan