Does reading make me happy?

I’ve just read a fascinating article by Ceriden Dovey.┬áThe author writes of having been given a series of sessions with a bibliotherapist as a gift. Being offered specific texts to read on ‘prescription’ did not appeal to her at first but she settled in to find intrigue and satisfaction in this method.

The article made me think more closely about the emotional power of the act of reading. Is this the purpose of reading for me and to what degree does the way I choose books, or how and when I read, affect me? Is this a private occupation or is public approval an added or necessary aspect to my enjoyment?

It would seem from the proliferation of book clubs that reading, sharing the content of the chosen texts and offering opinions, gives many people pleasure. I can vouch for this even when other people’s point of view is opposed to mine. To find common ground with others makes me happy but adversely I was positively irate when several people thought ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt tedious when I’d found it a most absorbing and glorious read.

Without any real evidence, apart from my own experience upon which to base this statement, I would say that book groups are especially popular with women. And I’m not going to go into the pull of emotions on women rather than men as, not only do I have no proof to posset the premise, nor do I wish to find it. In fact in writing this statement I can immediately refute it either way with men I know.

For me, my love of reading, does it make me happier? I did once comment that going to bed with a good book was better than with any lover. Only half tongue in cheek. The prospect though of travelling into another world, with characters whose actions can intrigue or infuriate, a plot that begs for you to turn to the page is an excellent pastime. And, of course, frequently the possibility of finding facts and ideas that had never before entered your consciousness. Recently I was deposited in late 17th century Amsterdam in ‘The Minituarist’ by Jessie Burton, steeped in the morals and mores of that time.

So I began to think of my choice of what to read, the time I give both the function and the choosing.

When I was a child my parents only read in bed; I presume as there was far too much to do during the day. A habit passed on to me and my siblings. I threw this off, the guilt of reading during the day, much later. Though time sitting with a book always feels like a luxury.

My choices? Friends offer ‘good reads’ to try though I’m often put off by lurid dust jackets especially if they pronounce them a ‘No. 1 Best Seller’. I nearly refused to read ‘Where Did You Go, Bernadette’ by Maria Semple because the crazy image, and then was engrossed after reading the first two pages. I went on to recommend it as a best summer read last year. I’m influenced by reviews, prizes and will always go for an author I’ve already considered a favourite. Many of these are American men; John Irving, Philip Roth, John Steinbeck, and the list goes on. I’m averse to historical novels I say, and yet Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ are wonderful but cannot be considered in that category. I avoid fantasy but am passionate for the magic realism of Gabiel Garcia Marquez.

I have to admit that if a novel grips me I often take on the persona of a particular character. At the moment I identify strongly with Axl in Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘The Buried Giant’. I even find myself using his speech patterns! Strange as he’s an elderly man of no apparent heroic quality. Perhaps he is closest to my childhood favourite, Mole in ‘The Wind in the Willows’.

There is more to write but better you go to Ceriden Dovey’s article where there is so much more.

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