Why read? English author Neil Gaiman (born 1960) gave good reasons in a lecture he delivered at the Reading Agency, a UK charity, in 2013. It is available in print in his collection of selected non-fiction The View from the Cheap Seats that was released earlier this year.
In the talk titled “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming”, Gaiman mentions two big uses of fiction. First is drive – which gives us a sense of purpose, second empathy – which helps build groups. Gaiman explains:
Firstly, it’s [fiction] a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end…that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going.
This sense of drive derived out of reading could be easily applied to other aspects of life. Gaiman adds later:
The second thing that fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking to things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world, and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.
Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.
You’re also finding out something as you read that will be vitally important for making your way in the world.
It’s this: THE WORLD DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS. THINGS CAN BE DIFFERENT.