Why do we read what we read?
Resuming the blog this year, more than slightly behind schedule, I’ll be exploring why exactly we read… and why we read at all.
The human mind is hard-wired for stories.
Don’t believe me? The first question every child asks is: “Why?” Growing up, we demand better, fuller, more complex answers—that’s the reason we pick up a book and read.
Throughout history we have loved to make up stories—sometimes it’s called gossip or a story we tell ourselves or it can be literature, or it can be an outright lie. It might be a soap opera or an Oscar-winning movie. We need stories, because they help explain and enlighten our lives.
There’s parts of our brain that when damaged will rob us of all story. Once these essential parts of our brains are gone—from Alzheimer’s, from injury, or is missing from birth due to chromosomal defects—we sadly seem to become less human, because we are no longer able to interact with the world within the context of a “story.” From the age of about two years, the human’s very large brain—designed to process and store and use vast amounts of information—has craved story in every form. Very few of us actually hunger after how-to manuals or textbooks, unless we need the information to help process—you guessed it—some story of particular interest to us. It’s information that helps fill in the blanks.
Recently, I was a judge in a book contest and assigned one biography category. One of the entries, a blow-by-blow, data-driven account of the lives of three people in one family had all the reading appeal of a laundry list. The author had assembled his information as if gathered from drivers’ licenses or the department of vital statistics: that’s not what story is about. There are many, many fine biographies, all factual, that are written using the same skills that make a novel pleasant reading: writing that satisfies the reader’s basic need for a story.
Over the centuries, truly great raconteurs—those whose stories we want to listen to—have been replaced by writers and in some rare cases, great cinematographers. However, even those movies start with the lure of the written word.
So, what do you read—and why?
Join other readers Saturday, February 21, 1:00-3:00, for a discussion by mystery writers at Mostly Books, 6208 E. Speedway, Tucson, AZ.
Next blog post: Readers Seeking the “Double C”. Can my readers guess what it is?