Why do we read stories?

Do we read so that we may understand the world or do we read so that we may understand ourselves? Do we read to escape the world? Do we read to put ourselves in another’s shoes? Do we read to gain new perspectives? Do we read so that, for a few moments at least, we may become someone else? Do we read so that we may learn the answers, or do we read so that we may learn what questions to ask?

I’ve been a reader my whole life. Okay, maybe not my whole life! But the moment I learned to read as a child, I started reading and I never stopped. Literature was one of my favorite subjects in high school and one thing I particularly enjoyed was evaluating characters. Discovering the subtle and not-so-subtle ways a character reveals themselves to the world. Sympathizing with the struggles and flaws that all of humanity has in common. Appreciating the complexity of every single solitary personality.

I believe we read for a myriad of reasons.

One very valid one (especially in this day and age), being as an escape from the darkness of the world. But I don’t think that it’s wholly an escape. As long as the material that we’re reading is wholesome and pure, it’s really serving as a lesson. It’s instructing us in the art of life. Sometimes those lessons are obvious and other times subtle, but our souls need them the same way our physical bodies need water. Our souls thirst for truth and beauty, things that are too hard to find these days.

Through a story, we can step through the pages of history and see the world from the perspective of someone in a time and place vastly different from our own, only to discover that at the core, our hearts all beat the same. Humanity has always wrestled with the same longings, the same fears, the same questions.

The setting may change, the characters may appear different, but the undercurrent will always be the same. The longing for love and acceptance, the struggle to be enough, the fear that life is meaningless, and the hope that this world is not just an accident.

In short, I guess we read so that we may feel a little less alone.

As C.S. Lewis put it:

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

C.S. Lewis

We read in the hopes that we will find that friend who has been there, we read in the hopes that we will see an end to the darkness. We read because in this desert of a world, stories are like water to our thirsty souls.

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  1. I love this post! That C.S. Lewis quote was a highlight of The Four Loves for me. It’s so, so true! His entire section on friendships was so full of valuable insights.

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