Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why Do We Read?

Today was my third to last day with my AP English Lit students. Bittersweet times. I have one goal for them as we come to the end of our time together: to be readers and writers in the world beyond my classroom. Today we explored reading. Using Steven Shann's wonderful work about literature and values, my class and I brought in books we value - books from any age in our lives that have stayed with us for any number of reasons. We shared our books, making a map of literature in our lives. My students then answered, "Why do we read?" Their responses show me that my students, as a cross-section of our world, are thoughtful, seek what is good and right, want to grow and learn, and will keep reading -- not just for me, but for their world. I am not surprised, and I am very proud. Here are their words ...

Evan wrote, "I can truthfully say that I am not an avid reader and I don’t know if I ever will be, but some of the books I have read, such as Bringing Down the House or Miracle in the Andes or Into Thin Air, have truly changed my life. Reading these people's life experiences has helped me realize who I am and what aspects of life I should or shouldn’t follow. I believe this is why people read. What I think is unbelievable is that in today’s world, people are always trying to create ways to make things easier and able to be done with minimal effort, but for some reason most humans such as myself will pass on the chance to see a 2hr movie to read a 400 page book that may take a few weeks. I wish I had the answer to why this is."

Cara wrote, "I think we read to lean ... We learn about facts of other places and cultures of course, but I think that what we are really learning is about how much more there is to the world beside our selves."

Griffin wrote, "We read because it is something we want to do. Reading fulfills something that we are want. It is that simple."

Greg wrote, "If you know a book is nowhere like your life (A Million Little Pieces for example) it gives new perspective."

Maggie wrote, "I think we read to gain more out of life. Being able to read the experiences or fictional stories of others takes us to places we would never dream of. We all have our individual sense of who we are and we will go in one direction with our lives, but by reading, we're able to experience and imagine our life as someone else. It could either make us happy with the life we currently have or drive us to make a change and do something else."

Carmen wrote, "Reading is one of the most powerful things in the world. It’s how we communicate and it’s how we learn ... It would be nearly impossible for the world today to operate without it ... It just makes me really happy…so that’s why I read."

Emily Z wrote, "I think that we read to understand something that we didn’t before. I think that along with reading, we understand ourselves better. We put ourselves in the situations, we challenge ourselves to think about what we would do if we were the characters, and as the character grows, I think we are able to grow with them."

Carley wrote, "We read to learn, feel inspired, and connect. We read to understand. We read to know. We read to laugh, cry, and love. We read to identify with characters, make them our friends, and learn from their mistakes ... We read for the impact it makes upon our lives. We read to discover lessons we would otherwise have to learn the hard way ... We read because it makes time worthwhile, and most importantly, we read because we love it."

Nate wrote, "If we can search for a book’s truth and depth AND enjoy the author's hard work, we gain insight from another person’s perspective…that’s why we read. That way we’re always learning and always moving forward."

Jamie wrote, "Currently I read to better myself; however back in the day, reading meant being with my family right before bedtime. I have tons of memories of being with them that I could never replace."

Carlyn wrote, "To be able to experience anything imaginable"

Raleigh wrote, "We read for fun. We read to go places we cannot go within an hour or a day, however long we decide to read. We read to exercise our imaginations and stimulate our minds. We read because we want to. We read because we want to see life from another place or time. We read to think and expand our own knowledge. We read because it is beautiful..."

Emily G wrote, "We read to escape ... We read to learn ... We read to relate ... We read to think."

Joe wrote, "I think people read to experience things we otherwise can't, and to confer with others about their feelings to something in a book. Unlike movies, books are personal, reading a book is like writing a journal. You feel a new you building itself as you read about events you have never confronted in your own life."

Nicholas wrote, "We read in order to escape the realities that surround us and escape the stresses of the world."

Britnae wrote, "It validates what you are feeling. I think this is nearly an exact quote from somewhere I forgot, but there's nothing more thrilling than opening a book and finding the author wrote something that you thought only you had felt before. I tells us that it's okay to be crazy, or dissatisfied, or goofy, or intellectual ... books are like meeting new people."

Carole wrote, "I wanted to go into a new world, I wanted to meet new people. I would pretend that the characters I read and liked were my friends and would talk to them. The more books I read the more friends I got, the more places I knew."

Landon wrote, "We read to escape."

Walker wrote, "If I want to be a warrior battling against the forces of evil, a spy infiltrating enemy headquarters, or a gentleman in the British Aristocracy, I read. It allows me to almost leave my corporeal body and mentally journey into another world. It allows me to meet thousands of new friends, and travel to thousands of new countries and worlds."

Neil wrote, "Reading is a kind of experience you can keep forever; you can hold onto something forever from a good book, and eventually you end up with a mind full of wisdom to share with people around you."


  1. Reading these responses was a joy. What an articulate and deep group of students you have! So many different surface reasons for reading, but all of them were about pleasure. These young people are obviously surrounded by people like you who value books, reading, the imagination ... and (even for those who see reading as an escape) as a lens through which to see life more clearly.
    It was great to read all of this at a time when students are also feeling the pressure of time, or expectations to get high grades. Reading takes time, and time is sometimes difficult to find. I am thinking about this a lot at the moment. Thanks so much for the example of your encouraging work.

  2. What a great activity. The uploaded inspiration charts look great. It was so cool knowing each of them beforehand and then seeing each of their show & tell books. By seeing what they selected and reading what they wrote I learned something new. Which is why I like reading blogs.