Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why Do We Read?

Yet again I found myself awake in the wee hours of the morning, a bit earlier than I had planned. And once again I felt compelled to write. Perhaps this is an indication of when my mind is most unencumbered and free to create.

What was I pondering today? Why do we read? What are the motivating factors? And as I formulated an answer in my half-sleeping mind, I thought that I should write it down.

I read for two reasons. The first, and most obvious one, is to learn about something new. This is the reading as pure information transfer view. When I read, I am, at least ostensibly, interested in what the author has to say. There's usually some nugget of information that I would like to glean from them. I can even classify reading for enjoyment under this branch of reasoning. There the information I collect from my readings has an intrinsic fun value to it.

The second, less obvious reason, is to learn how to write. And this is really one that can help you salvage an otherwise poor reading experience. Because even when the informational content of what I'm reading proves to be a dud, I do still notice how the piece is written. Word choices, turns of phrases, idioms, these are all things that you can really only learn through repeated exposure to them in the written word. A neat little phrasing here, a tight sentence there, like a scavenger, I keep what I like and discard the rest. Indeed, even essays completely lacking in information content and rhetorical devices can still teach you something: how you don't want to write.

If you don't already read to write, I'd encourage you to try it. At the very least, it'll make boring passages slightly more bearable if you have an ulterior motive for reading them. And it may even make you a better writer!


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