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Reading IS the thing

I was recently discussing with library book club attendees why it is often so difficult to remember details of what we’ve read. Some were sharing tips about how they briefly capture pertinent plot or character points in notebooks or on Goodreads.

Of course, if you’re reading something for a discussion, you’re going to be more intentional about these things, but what about a book you’re just reading for no reason other than enjoyment?

For those of us who read a lot and remember very little… it can almost make us wonder if reading is worthwhile at all. Almost.

Take heart. I believe reading to be an activity that is less about outcome and more about experience. The act of reading is the thing itself. When you’re reading fiction, you’re not reading for information.

And, even when you cannot remember details, you will often remember your response. In this way, I think that every book you read has the potential to be transformative.

The idea that reading is more about experience and less about outcome should liberate us who are avid readers. Reading isn’t simply a means to an end; it’s the end itself. Reading one 900-page novel over the course of two months may be as important as reading six new novels during that same time.

I realize that I say all this as we’re entering into the season of lists (my favorite time of year). The end-of-year lists offer so much excitement, but they can also make me feel like I haven’t read nearly enough. If you feel a little left behind, banish the thought. There’s not a right or wrong reading list. Whatever you’re reading is what you should be reading.

In preparing for Magic City Books’ Sixth Anniversary event with Michael Cunningham, I read an interview in Berkshire Magazine where he stated:

We who are serious about books are not going to have time to read all the significant books even once. We should read the ones most moving to us about once every ten years. That’s an arbitrary number, but you know what I mean. It’s the same book, but you’re a different person, and you’re going to read it differently.

What are the books that have been most moving to you? Have you revisited them recently?

Maybe instead of worrying about the quantity of books we read, we should be thinking about the books that matter most to us and give them another serious reread. I think that there is a reason why certain books stay with you, and that’s worth a deeper dive.

So, I offer you no list this month, only continued permission to read and re-read what you love.

When you read a book, you enter a different world. But the act of reading does more than broaden our world-view; it creates empathy, and nurtures civility.