Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books, by Wendy Lesser
Why do you read? My book club friends and I regularly revisit this question, mostly as part of the conversation about what we will pick for next month’s discussion. It’s not surprising that, among our 10 club members, our reasons for reading are as varied as our personalities. Some prefer escapist fiction and happy stories because they want reading to take them away from real-life worries. Others gravitate toward nonfiction because they still read to learn. Some want hard, gritty literature that challenges their preconceptions about the world and ourselves. And, of course, a few members (including me) want to mix it up so that the act of reading feels different from book to book.
Earnest readers will enjoy exploring the subject of reading with Wendy Lesser. Lesser has the chops to take on this grand topic: she’s the founder and editor of the literary magazine The Threepenny Review, a well-published author of nonfiction and a novel, and a lifetime literary critic. More than anything, she is an impassioned reader. Lesser has read widely and deeply, and—as the book’s subtitle proclaims—she takes a serious approach to books. Big names like Dickens and Dickinson appear alongside contemporary faves like Mantel and Murakami, and literary concepts like character, plot, and narrative authority give the book its framework. But, throughout it all, Lesser insists on reading as pleasure. That’s her main motive in reading and also in writing this book for fellow readers. She goes behind the curtains of some of her favorite books, plays, and poems to discover the literary tricks that help these works produce pleasure, not just for her but for a wide audience. Her approach can be professional at times and personal at others. So embark on this book with a sense of adventure. Literature, writes Lesser in the prologue, is “always an adventure of some kind. Even the second or third or tenth time you read it, a book can surprise you, and to discover a new writer you love is like discovering a whole new country.” Why I Read inspired in me a new interest in detective novels, and it is bound to take you to some uncharted territory as well. Go forth and read!