Why read?


I am looking at too much news. Every day there is more, and it’s loud – data and facts mostly, and many, many images.

It is like entering an art gallery and being told very quickly, loudly, and with huge authority, which pieces of art are red, which are small, which are thick, and which are useless. And then, which pieces contain wool, which ones are cold, and most importantly, which ones are bad, and may have possibly broken the law. I get 15 seconds with each piece, my face on the painting, grazed, my eyes hopeful. Then leaving with these deafening crashes of information and baffling images still sounding and still hurting. This is the news.

At the moment journalists seem to mostly locate, circle, and then humiliate. There is no context and no perspective, and therefore no understanding or compassion. I learn nothing. I remain fixed. But I have definitely honed my skills in blaming and allocating disgrace. I do this all the time. It is easy because (obviously) I am not like them.


Politicians getting it wrong, government employees doing nothing, stupid women shopping at Bunnings, idiots sneaking across borders, fools not wearing masks, not obeying, not staying home, not getting it right, not saying the right things, not avoiding the wrong things, believing silly things, buying too much, keeping too much, standing too close, driving too fast, being mean, being ugly, being critical, careless, violent, dishonest, selfish: them.

I can’t really see the problems, but I can clearly see who is to blame. I don’t understand the situations. I am distracted from solutions. I am never sure what is going on. But shaming is the most satisfying solution – because I can then forget all about. This leaves me with no clear perspective of humanity, except that it’s all someone else’s fault. Soon I will scroll my news feed for more satisfaction.

But when I read, I must return to an acute and clean discomfort – that “them” is “me”. And that there is not a single situation where I would or could be other than “them”. Literature tells me that human nature has not changed and that there is always, always more to everything. I am the same as anyone when lacerated by fear; we do what we do. What’s different is how we express it, if we get caught, and if our badness is of quick value to someone else.

But the news makers themselves – the ones who chase and choose the news, presenting these facts and those awful images, keeping us informed. What is their story? What awful deadlines and expectations do these individuals face that they must hurl so much gravel, so quickly and so powerfully.

I would like to be able to step back and understand more, consider the larger, diabolically more complex stories behind what is happening. To acknowledge my own deep and fearful place in it all. How else do I gain a consoling perspective? How else to grow compassion?

Of all the inanimate objects, of all man’s creations, books are the nearest to us, for they contain our very thoughts, our ambitions, our indignations, our illusions, our fidelity to truth, and our persistent leaning towards error. But most of all they resemble us in their precarious hold on life.

Joseph Conrad

Notes on life and letters 1921


15 thoughts on “Why read?

  1. Excellent piece! I think you’re right. “Them” is me, is all of us. Mea culpa. I had an experience today just like you describe, where I was called out for some behaviour which that person then proceeded to display herself. With a great deal of restraint (not my strongest point, I have to say), I thought, pick your battles, girl, don’t go there, and sodidn’t call her out in turn.

    I forget who it was who said, “It’s often what we ourselves do, that we hate in other people”, or words to that effect. Again, mea culpa!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. No reading on Friday, unfortunately, too much to do. But today is also cold, and grey, and the power went out unexpectedly for several hours. No fun reading in the cold. It’s back on now, so I’m heading for the couch, the cat, and a Paul Theroux travel book. if this book is anything to go by, Paul has matured as a writer and as a traveller.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “Literature tells me that human nature has not changed and that there is always, always more to everything.”
    I think this is one of the main reasons we read. We learn that we all are the same, that there are (understandable) reasons for doing what we do. We read because it unites us to others across time and place. We read to gain understanding about ourselves and others. We read in order to make sense of life, to feel understood, and less alone.

    Liked by 2 people

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