Every time someone asks me why I read, I’m stumped. Especially when the person asking me that question is a skeptic who thinks reading “storybooks” is beneath them.
The books I read will not directly influence my career or social status. I can’t say that it improves my vocabulary because it really doesn’t. I don’t go around using new words every day. Do I read because I learn new things from it? I do learn, but I forget it the very next day. I take the easy way out when someone asks me that question by saying that I read to pass time. But that’s not entirely true because there are plenty of other things I can do to pass time that requires lesser effort than reading. Some books are easy, but some books really make you work.
2015 has been a good year for me, reading-wise. So I turned to some of the best books I read this year to figure out the reasons why I read.
- Books are fun:
Some books just make you feel happy. You know how people in relationships say that they’d feel incomplete without the other person? Me without you is that, except you don’t want to roll your eyes at it for being too ‘couple-y’. The cute illustrations and funny verses (“me without you is like cow without moo”) make it a warm read, even for single people.
2. Books show you that learning is a continuous process:
Books constantly disprove what we always thought was true.
Debt was one such book. We have all heard the theory of how money was invented to replace barter — when one person wants what the other person has but doesn’t have what the other person wants.
The problem with that theory is that there is no evidence to support it. In this book, David Graeber disproves the age-old barter theory of money. He shows the readers how credit and debt existed even before money, how debt influenced marriage, slavery, religion, and war, and how debts are not meant to be paid off (bet you haven’t heard that before).
It’s not easy to wrap your head around this book if you are not an economist (I have forgotten most of the concepts already). However, if you are an economist, you’ll have to unlearn Adam Smith and read this book with an open mind. (Read full review)
While Debt disproved Wealth of nations, The emperor of all maladies is a story of generations of scientists disproving each other, in search of a cure for cancer.
“If we, as a species, are the ultimate product of Darwinian selection, then so, too, is this incredible disease that lurks inside us”
I don’t know if it’s the right feeling to have, but after reading this book, I found Cancer fascinating. I picked up this book purely because of its interesting title, and I’m so glad I did. You can’t find magical cures or breakthroughs in this book, but if you are interested in understanding the deadly, incurable disease, this is a great place to start. (Read full review)
3. Books celebrate weird:
What would we call a girl who makes others happy without expecting anything in return? A girl who genuinely doesn’t care what others think of her? We’d call her weird. She calls herself “Stargirl”.
What happens when you try to fit a girl like her in a rigid society with all these unwritten rules about happiness is the story of Stargirl. It’s a beautiful book about a beautiful character. It is very much for adults as it is for kids. (Read full review)
4. Books help you understand where you came from:
What was going on in the leaders’ minds when they decided that India would be a democratic country when 80% of India was uneducated? What happened after we got the freedom we wanted? Did things just fall into place? Surely not.
India after Gandhi is about the unsung heroes who built the country from the ground up. It’s about the ideals that shaped the biggest democracy. It’s about the people who brought the states that spoke different languages and that wanted to be separate countries together.
This is one of the most fulfilling books I read this year. Whether you agree or disagree with Ramachandra Guha, this book is not to be missed. (Read full review)
While India after Gandhi tries to cover close to 50 years of history in one book, The great hedge of India is a quest focusing on one thing.
When in a London library, Roy Moxham comes across a passing reference to a hedge in India. As a historian who has never heard of this particular hedge before, he flies to India to search for it and in the process, discovers the unpleasant reason behind its existence.
This book is a travelogue/detective story with plenty of history in it. It also shows you how rewarding research and persistence is. You can’t find this particular story about British Raj elsewhere. (Read full review)
5. Books lets you live through other people’s experiences:
I realised that I like most books where we see the character grow in every way (physiologically, psychologically, spiritually). Such books are called a bildungsroman. Of human bondage is an example.
I have seen a lot of people snigger at the title of this book, but there is no innuendo here. The book is about bondage — familial bondage, societal bondage, financial bondage, and sexual bondage — and how the protagonist wants to escape it.Somerset Maugham is one of the best authors I read this year. This book will always be special to me as it too attempted to answer the question of why people read:
“When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for ME, and it becomes a part of me”
6. Books get out of your comfort zone:
A young girl gets raped on a rainy evening. All she remembers about the rapist is his car. She becomes an outcast and leads an unpleasant life with a nagging mother on one side and her pervert uncle on the other.
After many years of living this way and listening to people say “No one can marry you other than your rapist”, she sets out to find him through that car. She finds him and befriends him.
As the title ‘Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal’ suggests, this book is about people and the situations that make them do good or bad. Jeyakanthan’s characters and well-rounded and very real. I don’t know if this book sparked a controversy when it came out in 1972. Had it been released today, it would have. (Read full review)
If reading about rape doesn’t get you out of your comfort zone, reading about war will.
I like books about war. I can’t get enough of them. No, I am not a sadist. I don’t enjoy reading about bloodshed. But I love the fact that every book written about war shows how ugly and pointless it is. Unlike movies, books don’t celebrate heroism in war.
Llosa’s epic ‘The War of the End of the World’ is based on a real war and a real movement in which a prophet influenced thousands of poor people to establish a new order for themselves.
7. Books give voice to the voiceless:
Reading Voices from Chernobyl was a whole new experience for me. When a disaster happens, the dead and the survivors become just another stat. We don’t know about their past or their present. We don’t know who they were or what they dreamed of. They will always be associated with the disaster.
But Svetlana Alexievich has done a great job giving them all a voice and a place to tell their stories.
This book is horrifying. But not in the way you’d expect to be horrified while reading about a nuclear disaster; it’s horrifying to find out how normal their lives were before the disaster, it’s horrifying to read about them losing faith in science, it’s horrifying to know that the soldiers who cleaned up the disaster site knew fully well how ugly their deaths will be.
You have everything one day and the next day you are a nobody. It’s horrifying to know that we have no control on our fate whatsoever.
The author received the Nobel prize for literature a few weeks after I completed this book. Honestly, nobody deserves it more.
Svetlana gave voice to disaster survivors but Janaki gave voice to animals.
My husband and other animals is one of the happier books I read this year. I haven’t read a book about animals before, let alone about them coexisting with humans.
Janaki Lenin doesn’t strictly give a voice to the snakes and crocodiles in this book, but she helps you understand that they are interesting and important beings. Her beautiful anecdotes show that centipedes, ants, frogs, and lizards have the right to live, as much as any human, as much as her husband.
So this year, I have found seven reasons why I read. But I’m still gonna take the easy way out when someone asks me the question. Because I’d rather read another book than spend time convincing skeptics about the benefits of reading.