How books are made, the process of publishing, who writes them and for what purpose has changed tremendously over time. But one thing remains the same: we still love to read books. Under whatever form–paperback, hardcover, ebooks or audio–books are here to stay. Here are some of the reasons why:
1. Entertainment. Books are still one of the best and most accessible forms of entertainment. We can learn about any subject and travel, in our imagination, to any place and time by reading books. We can even imagine alternative universes. Even better, reading is a very flexible endeavor. We can do it in the privacy of our homes, online through joining reading clubs, or with our neighbors and friends in local book clubs.
2. Socializing. Even solitary reading is an inherently social activity. In reading, we connect with the literary canon or simply with what’s popular at the moment. Chances are that if we’ve heard of a book, it’s already been marketed and promoted widely. Many of us join local book clubs, which become a welcome opportunity of catching up on our friends’ and acquaintances’ lives, enjoying time together, and discussing life in general, not just books. Moreover, via reading and review websites such as Librarything.com, Shelfari.com, and Goodreads.com we can make new acquaintances based on lively discussions and common interests.
3. Acquiring information or knowledge. We often read to learn about how to diet, how to dress, how to parent kids correctly: anything and everything about psychology, art, science, literature, dance or any other subject that interests us. Although nowadays there are many convenient online sources of information, often books provide a level of depth and detail that cannot be replaced by such brief descriptions.
4. Exploring our imagination and leading parallel lives. Most of us assume that we only have one life on Earth. As we grow older, our lives narrow as a result of the choices–of lifestyle, partners, careers, family–we make. Each choice, be it good or bad, determines our direction and eliminates other potential paths in life. Reading is the easiest way to explore other modes of existence, practically risk free. Books carry us to places we’ve not even dreamt of before, to different epochs or styles of life. It is in some ways even more liberating than film because readers fill in the blanks more so than viewers, in imagining characters and situations described only through words. Reading fiction, for instance, places us in the shoes of characters radically different from us and helps us envision what it’s like to live that kind of life. This is why reading is not just a light or passive exercise. It’s also an inherently philosophical and very liberating exercise of our imagination. Through imagining compelling thought experiments–characters, places and situations–reading represents one of the easiest and most creative ways of escaping the limitations of our lives. It gives us the kind of ontological freedom that few other activities can afford. This is why I believe that no matter what transformations the publishing world will go through–and many predict that there will be some major ones in the near future–we will continue to love books.
Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon