To my way of seeing it, it is an indisputable fact that reading makes you a better person. The benefits of reading are well documented. Almost every site devoted to literature has its own version of “How Reading Makes You Smarter/Happier/Kinder. They are all fun to read, mostly because I thoroughly agree. It is like receiving a virtual pat on the back. It is a momentary silencing of that quiet voice that occasionally whispers, “Your hobby is turning you into a lazy slob.” It is like hearing the perfect defense for all those times you hear, “Really, you are reading again.” You have likely read many of the same studies I have to this end. The listed benefits of reading generally go something like this: reading gives you:
- Broader Understanding/Curiosity for the World
- Building Vocabulary
- Mental Health
Pretty indisputable, right?!
I have a new one to add to the list: Self Discovery
We have all had those moments where you suddenly see yourself with acute clarity. They come on in an instant, without warning. One minute you are all dressed up, blissfully enjoying the wedding of an old friend, caught up in the moment and BOOM! the Mother/Son dance you are watching is suddenly you and your son. In between the tears, darn those caterers and their onions, you realize those ladies in the grocery store have been right all along, it will be over in a blink.
Recently, I had one of those moments. It started out a day like any other: get up, make breakfast, get children to school on time (or at least try to), talk to people about books, etc. Except on this particular day, everyone I talked to asked me some version of the same question, “What did you like about (fill in the blank) book?” The only difference was what book they were referring to. By about the fourth person, right in the middle of my Groundhog Day (the movie, not the actual fake weather day) moment, BOOM! it hit me. Self Discovery. I realized that all of my answers had a shockingly similar thread, despite the fact that I had been discussing several different books.
All of my answers about why I liked a book had been emotional. Each time I had described the way the book made me feel. I would talk about whether I cried or laughed, or felt angry. I have an immediate answer for which books evoked the strongest emotional reaction in me. For example:
- Books that made me laugh the most – Catch 22 by Joseph Heller and Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (anything by Pratchett actually).
- Books that made me cry the most – Night by Ellie Wiesel Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
- Book that made me the most angry was Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult ( the “Turk” chapters).
- Book that scared me the most was Intensity by Dean Koontz.
This realization, that my primary description of books is an emotional one, was very surprising.
I have always thought of myself as having the emotional range of double-sided tape, one side normal (read: sarcastic, cynical, slightly bitter), the other side angry. Both sides look pretty much the same and usually end up getting me in sticky (yep, I just did that!) situations. I thought I was calloused and cold-hearted. Turns out, that is only true when encountering actual humans (just kidding, mostly).
Apparently, books bring out the emotions in me. And while I love words, beautifully constructed sentences, and creative, visceral stories; it would appear that what I care most about is how the story made me feel.
I have to admit, I don’t know how I feel about that.