Priscilla Long

November 29, 2018

Why Read?

Photo Credit: Jerry Jaz

Because we are all on an Odyssey.

Because reading a book while waiting for a bus causes the bus to arrive sooner.

Because books open doors to worlds.

Because holding a well-designed book, feeling its weight, turning its pages is one of the good things in life.

Because, says my friend, my father was so mean that I needed another reality to live in.

Because reading leads to the library, and the library, with its books, reading tables, and kindly librarians, is a great socialist institution.

Because if you love sentences, you want to read them.

Because a long novel is a long vacation.

Because in reading a book you join the community of all the people who have read that book.

Because a house full of books is a cozy home.

Because poetry is music, and we need music.

Because Jean Rhys wrote stories, because Walter Mosley wrote novels, because Virginia Woolf wrote novels, because James Baldwin wrote essays, because Shakespeare wrote plays, because C. D. Wright wrote poems. . . .

Because reading can teach us how to fix a VW bug, how to build a house, how to plant peas, how to grow gardenias. Because cookbooks are books. And cookbooks lead to dinner.

Because as a reader you can make a life list of the books you have read. And aren’t the books we have read part of our own life history, part of who we are?

Because reading takes us, with no travel expense, to the Wide Sargasso Sea.

Because reading provides transportation to the cradle of civilization, to the Tigris and Euphrates, to the Gilgamesh epic, to the hero’s journey.

Because there’s always one more book to read.

Because reading transmits news of the inner lives of others.

Because by reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project you can learn to be happy.

Because reading self-help books helps you help yourself.

Because reading makes for good conversations.

Because reading shows us we are not alone. We are part of the human condition.

Because reading together is a sweet way to spend time.

Because words printed on a page do not fling themselves at you and then disappear, as do words coming from a radio or a TV.

Because words on a page wait quietly for their reader to read them, to mull them over, to mouth them, to hear their sounds.

Because you cannot turn the page of a television set.

Because reading fires neurons, more so than watching a movie or TV. Reading activates our brains.

Because we humans require a spiritual existence. We require works of mysticism and philosophy, sacred works, the Bible, the Rig Veda, Siddhartha, Winnie the Pooh.

Because browsing a bookstore full of new and used books is one of the good things in life.

Because reading a crime novel is a great way to solve a crime without getting shot.

Because reading teaches us we are not the only people in existence. It nudges us out of our narcissism. It helps us overcome our fears and hatreds of the “other.”

Because reading fuels imagination and imagination fuels creativity.

Because reading fiction teaches empathy.

Because books mirror our sorrows and losses, our joys and loves.

Because literature is part of our human inheritance.

Because to read to a child is to share a magical world.

Because the stories and poems we grew up with become part of who we are. How could I ever forget “The Raggedy Man” or “Now We Are Six” or Oliver Twist’s porridge bowl held up for a second helping.

Because reading turned Malcolm X from crime and incarceration to wisdom and leadership. That’s how powerful it is.

Because yesterday I read about Makemake (pronounced MAHkeh, MAHkeh). Makemake is a dwarf planet that orbits out there in the Kuiper Belt (Kuiper rhymes with hyper). Makemake has its own moon. It’s named after the Polynesian creation god. Wow. Who knew!?

Because reading is your ticket to time travel. I’m reading the thousand-year-old Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, a lady-in-waiting at the court in Kyoto. One of Sei Shonagon’s “delightful moments,” the gong of a temple bell on a fiercely cold night, reverberates in my own ear.

Because I’ve always read. Because I always will read. Because reading is who I am and what I do. Because I am a reader.

PriscillaLongis a Seattle-based writer of poetry, creative nonfiction, science, fiction, and history, and a long-time independent teacher of writing. Her how-to-write guide is The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life (Second Edition, University of New Mexico Press)Her work appears widely and her books are: Fire and Stone: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (University of Georgia Press), Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Poets, and Other Creators (Coffeetown Press), and Crossing Over: Poems(University of New Mexico Press). She is also author of Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America’s Bloody Coal IndustryHer awards include a National Magazine Award. Her science column, Science Frictions, ran for 92 weeks in The American Scholar. She earned an MFA from the University of Washington and serves as Founding and Consulting Editor of, the online encyclopedia of Washington state history.

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