I belong to two books clubs - one here in California, held at a local bookstore, and one back in Connecticut, to which I connect via FaceTime each month. Why?
My California club selects recent books, and the discussions continue for an hour or so, with everyone sharing impressions and analyses.
My Connecticut club generally selects new books as well, although not always. The members are my former neighbors and friends, and the discussions are social as well as book-oriented. The meetings give me an opportunity to "see" my friends who are 3000 thousand miles away.
In between meetings, I read other books - lots of other books. Why? Why do I read?
Some people are partial to books on particular subjects of interest to them, to learn more about that subject; some read for escape or entertainment, to participate in some sort of fantasy, to busy themselves while on a plane or a beach. What about me?
I'm not sure, exactly. I know I want to feel transformed, changed, exposed to new ideas, raw emotions. I don't want to laugh; I want to cry, scream, get angry, get carried away, usually something cathartic.
When I read Jill Cement's "The Tattoo Artist," I wanted to be on the South Seas island with Sara and try to understand how she allowed every inch of her body to be tattooed in the name of art. Her story fascinated and disgusted me. Reading Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography challenged me to be inside the head of that genius and try to "get" him. Did I hate him, feel sorry for him, or feel awed by his brilliance? Reading Nancy Milford's "Zelda" when I was in my 20s caused me great anguish as I lived with Zelda through her descent into madness and ultimate death. I felt the pain of "Marjorie Morningstar" (by Herman Wouk) losing the love of her life and settling for her parents' life. As a lover of courtroom drama, I was riveted by the moral and ethical issues raised in Herman Wouk's "The Caine Mutiny."
I also read to experience other cultures and environments vicariously, and to try to understand the inhabitants of those worlds. I felt for the heroine in Deborah Feldman's "Unorthodox," as she rebelled against her ultra-Orthodox Jewish upbringing and chose to leave and experience education and freedom. I was inspired by Paul Farmer's selfless life, described brilliantly by Tracy Kidder in "Mountains Beyond Mountains," as he tried to cure the poorest countries in the world of infectious disease while he studied at Harvard Medical School and afterwards. (Could I do something worthwhile, too?) I felt saddened at the plight of those caught in the civil war in Africa's Burundi, portrayed in Kidder's "Strength in What Remains."
So, maybe there is another reason I read, an overarching one. Perhaps I am trying to discover a purpose for my own life, an incentive to "do" something, a catalyst to help me start some journey towards......something. It's taking a long time.
Do others give so much thought to the reasons they read, what drives them, what their life's purpose is? I've never asked anyone these questions, but, for me, they are essential parts of my being. If only I had answers!