Why do I read again?

I just finished reading 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster yesterday, and to read my review, check out this post. It was a long, slow book for me, and I was so thrilled to finish it. I stopped thinking about as soon as I finished, but today, the one line I wrote down was stuck in my head.

The main character, Ferguson, was working his way through a reading list, and he was on the Russian classics, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky for example. He had just finished Crime & Punishment (which just so happens to be in my top ten favorite books), and he had this to say (note: the author writes incredibly long sentences, so this is just a cut out of one sentence, not the full thing):

… for Dostoyevsky had taught him that made up stories could go far beyond mere fun and diversion, they could turn you inside out and take off the top of your head, they could scald you and freeze you and strip you naked and thrust you out into the blasting winds of the universe…

Boy oh boy. If that doesn’t sum up why I read, I don’t know what can. I tried to explain why I love books and reading here, but after reading this quote, I realize that post falls horrendously short of actually explaining what reading does to me that keeps me coming back.

I forgot to mention that a good book can completely turn my thinking around. It can completely change my way of living. It can completely change my personality, who I surround myself with, what I do in my spare time. A good book makes me think about the time I’ve wasted in life, the things I haven’t done, the things I want to do, and the things I’ve done.

Don’t get me wrong. Nora Roberts is one of my favorite authors. I’m not thinking about her books hours after I finish them. I pick it up, I read through it, I put it down and say, “Oh that was nice,” and then I move on.

Roberts, for me, is fun and diversion. And that’s okay.

Dostoyevsky, however, goes far beyond that. I remember the first time I read Crime & Punishment. I think I was in high school, and I bought it because I had a Barnes’ & Noble gift card, and it looked like a book that smart people read (yes, I long to read books that smart people read). I trudged through it. I picked it up. I put it down. I underlined things that I thought sounded smart. Then I finished it. 

I didn’t really get it, but I knew. I knew that it was a big work. I knew that I should be experiencing what Ferguson up above was experiencing. I knew I should be inside out, scalded, and thrown across the universe after closing that book the final time. But I wasn’t, not yet. But from that moment on, I called it one of my favorite books.

When I picked up a few years later, it was with trepidation. What if I imagined the complexity and depth of this novel I didn’t understand? What if it was really just fun and diversion? But that read, I didn’t put it down. I didn’t want to, and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t have. That time, it struck me. I was turned inside out. I was scalded. The top of my head was gone, and I was thrust out into the universe left on my own to discover what this meant for me. 

If I tried to explain what I felt and thought after reading the book, I would fail. So I won’t try. But do, please, do yourself a favor and read Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky. Then you can understand what Ferguson and I understand. You can understand why I read. Why I keep picking up books above my intelligence level. Why I always carry a book with me.

“Don’t be overwise; fling yourself straight into life, without deliberation; don’t be afraid – the flood will bear you to the bank and set you safe on your feet again.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment


Image taken from Book Quotes Hub. “Crime and Punishment.”

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