There's a question I find myself forced to answer more of late than ever before. It's about books, and why I cram my living space with so many. Why do I buy books? The answer seems clear: because I like to read. But again they say, why? Usually, I mumble something about using books for research, or reading to cure boredom -- not purely a lie. Because, really, I don't know why I read. I just do. It's the way it's always been. Eat, go to school, hug mum, read: life's essentials.
Perhaps, I figure, I read to be informed. Although the first book I ever memorized was a book of Christmas Carols that's never really helped me in later life, and no amount of explanation would suffice for Jeffrey Goddin's Blood of the Wolf being on my nightstand for educational purposes. I read Erica Jong to be educated, Woody Allen to be entertained, Norman Mailer to be enlightened. Be it Hamlet, The Stand, Night of the Iguana, a pocket-sized Kama Sutra nicked from beneath the parents' bed, a Neil Young biography -- whatever was there had a purpose. It existed to inform, in some way. Intimately, casually, jokingly, junkily beautifully.
I got this question the other day at work: Doesn't reading the book first ruin the movie? That was a question I couldn't answer. I tried my best to fashion an answer in my head before simply sputtering and splurting and looking decidedly unread. The question was in relation to Children of Men, a fascinating film, but an exquisite novel.
'Cause why would we read when we have the movies, the Internet, everything else fighting to grab our attention? Well, because although the readers' life has altered, it's yet to completely change. We've got the eBook option, but we've never had to re-buy our collections or risk never being able to read them again. We don't have to worry about HDs and Blu-Rays and MP3 or AVI compatibility, but we continue to have more choice than ever before. Logging onto eBooks, eBay, or Amazon gives us access to brand new novels from Asia, Argentina, or the Ukraine simply by keying in a credit card number.
We can read interviews with authors, peruse a writer's back catalogue, or check out pictures of Margaret Mitchell's frocks. We can communicate with authors, join their websites, buy their CafePress mugs. We can check out an author's favorite books. We can even download the music an author composed their bestseller to as if it were a Broadway soundtrack. And here's a little secret -- with Amazon's excellent Search Inside tool, wide reading for a post-grad degree has never been easier. Book technology might ruffle some feathers, but most eager readers have to admit it's a better world for the bibliophile.
So, why do we read? Jesse Lee Bennett might have the best answer: "Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life." So, let's go...