Reading for pleasure

Reading for pleasure

There’s a certain phrase, one I loathe, which I am beginning to hear increasingly often. It’s a turn of speech which can send me into a rant so vehement that the only thing that shuts me up is the thought that my tirade is one step below making snide comments about ‘the youth of today’. The phrase? “I don’t read”.

“I don’t read.”

A simple enough declaration, yet one which causes my hackles to rise and my blood to boil each time. There is also a particular tone that accompanies it: A brand of languid insouciance which just highlights the reason for my irritation. It’s not that people don’t like reading; it’s that they can’t be bothered.

Every literate person reads. One cannot get through daily life without reading, whether it be the front cover of OK magazine, the TV listings or the perfume advert on the side of a bus. But there is a world of difference between reading as a necessity and reading as a hobby, as an art form, as an activity to be savoured.

Have you ever picked up a book and become so completely immersed in the nuances of its plot and the intricacies of its characterisation that you have lost all sense of time, of your surroundings, and even of yourself? That is reading in its true form. It’s the ultimate form of escape, as intoxicating as a drug but a million times better, because we, as the reader, can choose exactly where we are going to take a trip to, and – to an extent – what the effects will be. From the limitless expanse of calm blue which is the setting of Yann Martel’s bestseller ‘Life of Pi‘ to the seamy treasure-trove of New Orleans in Poppy Z Brite’s opus ‘Lost Souls ‘, we have an element of control over our entire reading experience. We can give up any time we want, but do we actually want to?

And yet, like drugs, what works for some might not work for others. What makes a book good or bad, offends some whilst enthralling others? Every person requires something different to encourage them to sit down with a book and read it from cover to cover. Some books seem to have this effect more than others: numerous acquaintances of mine had barely even touched a book before the release of the Harry Potter series; yet the popularity of these books proves that words alone are powerful enough to compel even the most die-hard non-reader to plough their way through a copy. The pen is truly mightier than the sword – or, in this context, the wand.

And what of the entire process itself? There is surely something appealing about purchasing a crisp new volume of a book, with a blurb promising the world summed up in five sentences and an equal number of stars, pure untainted pages and a spine as yet uncreased by the simple processes of buying, reading, living. The amount of pleasure gained from the experience also depends massively on the type of bookshop one chooses. For me, the idea of choosing – actually choosing – to buy my literary treasures from the faceless factories of WH Smith or Woolworth’s fills me with vehement antipathy; yet others, it would seem, love to sift through stationery and select their reading material from the midst of a panoply of pens.

In my opinion, the most rewarding, pleasurable and worthwhile way of buying a book is from a shop intended solely for that activity. The cavernous kind of bookshop, entire floors devoted to the subtle sorcery of ink and paper, with shelves extending to the ceiling and seemingly beyond it. Helpful and accommodating assistants, not the imposing kind who seem somehow to subtly mock one’s choice of literature. Strategically-placed, squashy sofas for those who are in for such a heavy session of browsing that they will need to rest their weary legs every few minutes in order to be able to continue.

Selecting one single book from the midst of this multitude is the hardest part of this exercise, but also the most fun. Whether you choose to sort on the basis of author, genre, or simply the colour of the cover, whittling down the shortlist of candidates for your impending attention is a thoroughly satisfying job. But the most wonderful part of the entire process is taking your new purchase home and opening it for the first time, hearing the spine crackle promisingly and smelling the scent of ink upon fresh paper. Then beginning to work your way through the first few pages, at first reading word by word in order that the crucial details should not escape your attention, but gradually picking up speed as you become increasingly absorbed in the subtleties of your chosen literature.

To enter such a state of mind, where the trivialities of daily life are so completely insignificant, is an absolute liberation. This is the freedom that literature can bring; a breath of fresh air to one’s existence. And yet there are still so many people for whom the very notion of picking up a book for the sake of pleasure conjures up myriad negative sentiments. These people cannot be bothered to read; nor they do not have the time; or simply, as is often the case, they have never learned to read for the sake of enjoyment – only out of necessity.

It is truly time that everyone embraced the notion of reading for pleasure; reading because they want to rather than because they have to. Literature in its many guises is something to be savoured, not endured. The form it is in has no bearing on the amount of gratification it can bring – whether you enjoy beefy blockbuster novels or critiques crammed with witticism and wry observations, the written word should be a source of enjoyment, never one of chagrin.

Pick up a text, whatever form it may take, and read. Read to your heart’s content, read and lose yourself in language, read because you like it. The time it will take is only as much time as you want to give; the skills you will use are no more complicated than the ones you learned when you were in primary school. The effort is minimal, but the outcome is so much greater. Do it, and enjoy.

Note from the Mookychick eds: Irony alert! If you look carefully you’ll see Amazon links have been embedded in an article espousing the joys of browsing a real bookshop. Our only excuse is that (A) we have a lovely website to support and maintain and (B) in our world, irony is usually something small and metally. xxx

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