Why Do We Read?

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Why do we read?

We might have more than one or two answers. It may be for information, for assignments, for enjoyment, for inspiration, or any number of things. A line from the 1993 film, Shadowlands, about the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman Gresham puts it this way, “We read to know we are not alone.”

My husband and I have pondered that line since watching the movie again a few days ago. Perhaps there is no specific meaning or that it is a universal truth overarching all else because reading connects us with the world outside of ourselves and connects with our internal world. How those connections occur can be hard to specify and yet they are undeniable no matter what reason we are reading.

It’s not unlike an author trying to explain how they wrote a book:

“You must not believe all that authors tell you about how they write their books. When the story is finished, he has forgotten a good deal of what writing it was like.”

Patti Callahan
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In the scheme of things every interaction we have with anyone or anything we read or take into our hearts, minds and spirits plays a part of experiences that help shape us. And human interactions are eternally important even if we may not recognize that in the moment.

A wee man climbs a tree to get a better look at Jesus and the next thing he knows Jesus is inviting himself to come to his house for a face-to-face connection or a woman comes to a well and meets “a man” who tells her everything about who she is and what she has done in her life.

You bump into a friend that you have not seen in a long time and a spiritual moment occurs that God uses to change your life in ways you did not even know needed to be changed.

Yes, we have choices and consequences for those choices, but a look over our shoulder as we enter the later seasons of our lives give us a different perspective so that we can see God was gently leading us even though we didn’t see Him then. We see that again and again in the great stories we read, even in fairy stories.

As I have been pondering the magical story in Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan, I remember what the 8-year-old George gained from reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that helped him as he faced a weakened heart that would take his life before he ever had a chance to grow up.

There is a scene where a friend of his sister, Megs, (Padraig) observes the following gift of the writing of C.S. Lewis:

“George knows you can take the bad parts in a life, all the hard and dismal parts, and turn them into something of beauty. You can take what hurts and aches and perform magic with it so it becomes something else, something that never would have been, except you make it so with your spells and stories with your life.”

Patti Callahan

The stories we read may not be full of magical spells cast by a witch or elf, but they often change us in ways we cannot explain. They may well give us hope even as C.S. Lewis’s book gave hope to George:

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“Mr. Lewis’s kinds of stories – the fairy tales, the myths, the universes all wrapping themselves around other worlds – are inside ours. These stories make us remember something we forgot. They make a young boy want to hop out of bed and see the ruins of a castle. These kinds of stories wake us up.”

Patti Callahan

There are stories like that, books like that, that sit on my shelves that I cannot give away because they changed me somehow, caused me to believe differently and with greater hope amid life’s daily challenges. And if I mistakenly pass them along to someone, I regret losing the companionship they gave me. Stories in the Bible are like that as well. Reading them at a specific point in our lives will speak so clearly that we can be tempted to think they were really written just for us. We get a sense of what it must have been like when Jesus called the wee man to come down out of the tree or asked Peter to leave his nets and go fishing for men.

And guess what? Each of our lives is a story that may never be written down in a book and yet is being read every day by those around us. How are we telling those stories and what do they reveal about what we believe, hope, love, or trust?

One thing is certain, the life of C.S. Lewis changed us if we have read any of his 30 books or taken the adventure to Narnia in his epic series. The things that wounded him in his childhood like the death of his mother from cancer when he was 9 years old and even the death of his beloved wife, Joy, to cancer so many years later influenced his writing and us in ways he could never have known when those things and so many others were happening.

“Maybe…maybe Narnia also began when Mr. Lewis sat quietly and paid attention to his heart’s voice. Maybe we are each and every one of us born with our own stories, and we must decide how to tell those stories with our own life, or in a book. Or…could it be that all our stories come from one larger story? Maybe Narnia also began before Mr. Lewis was even born in Belfast, Ireland. Maybe…Mr. Lewis’s tale already existed in the bright light where every story, legend, and myth is born.”

Patti Callahan
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2 thoughts on “Why Do We Read?

  1. Hi Pam,

    This is a thought provoking post. For me, reading is cathartic. Something feels good about sitting down to enjoy a good book. I am a fan of opening a novel and diving in for hours. Peaceful experience.


    1. Thanks, Ryan! I dive into novels that way as well or books that read like novels such as The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson that I just finished. Have a blessed 2022!

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