Reading is a solitary activity…

October 11, 2015

I’ve been thinking about reading, and what it has done to me. Linked in with this is my father’s comment, when I would challenge him about something, using evidence that I’d read, that ‘you can’t get everything from books’.

Reading is, per se, a solitary activity. By this, I mean not that you have to be alone to read, though you often are, but, that by reading you are cutting yourself off to some degree from your surroundings, including other people who may be in the same room. You are not conversing with them, or interacting with them, apart, perhaps, from an occasional comment or observation: otherwise, you aren’t really reading. And, as you have no doubt found, if you are reading and someone interrupts you, it can be very annoying. For me this is particularly the case when I’m working my way through the last few pages of something I’ve been really enjoying…

OK, you may say, nothing particularly new or astonishing there. And you are right. But then, I reflected on how much reading I do, and how much reading I’ve done over the course of a lifetime, and all the things I did not do with all that time, what else I might have been doing. Again, reading is usually in reasonably-sized time slots, though when I’m ill, for instance, I read for hours and hours non-stop (that’s how I read Lord of the Rings in a day and a half – I had flu at the time). So I can’t really say, well, last year instead of spending a total of, say, ten days reading, I could have gone on a cruise or walked Hadrian’s Wall.

But, I feel there are, and there have been, choices involved – unconscious ones that may have shaped the person I have ended up becoming. For, loving books from an early age, there were obviously many times when I chose to read rather than be sociable, or go out to the theatre or the cinema, many evenings when I’ve read rather than conversed. Days when I’ve sat and read rather than gone for a walk or a hike. Has this led to my becoming a rather quieter, more withdrawn and introverted person? Am I less inclined to do adventurous or risky things, when I can curl up safely with a book? Have I been missing out on potential experiences whilst living other, fictional, lives vicariously? Has reading been, if you like, a displacement activity?

Again, I read a lot of travel writing. Has this allowed me to be satisfied with others’ accounts of people and places, rather than making the effort to see them for myself? And, does this matter at all? There’s no point if it does, as rewinding the pages of time isn’t an option. I love reading, and don’t regret how I’ve spent my time: sometimes I just wonder, wistfully, what might have been.

Words, words, words, says Hamlet. Marvellous words, connecting with my mind and my reason, which are for me two of the greatest wonders of being alive. Or am I missing something?


3 Responses to “Reading is a solitary activity…”

  1. Sam Says:

    This really struck a chord with me. The hours and hours I have spent – and I usually read for hours at a time, too – could have been used in so many other ways. When there is so much to see, do and experience, I sometimes wonder if reading so much means I’m experiencing things a little one-dimensionally. But time spent doing things you love is never wasted!


  2. kirstwrites Says:

    Interesting question! I think reading both is, and isn’t, a solitary activity. Yes, you’re alone (usually) but you’re also with the author, and if you’re truly absorbed in a book you’re immersed in their thoughts/words/world view. Reading a good book can challenge you and broaden your understanding much more than talking about the same old things with the same old friends in the pub – that’s not to say I don’t value being sociable, just that friends can be an echo chamber and we tend to talk about what like talking about!


    • litgaz Says:

      Thank you for that perspective on it all – valid and helpful. I’ve always felt it’s important to be challenged in my thinking. Having thought further about what I wrote, I’m clear I have no regrets about it all…

      Liked by 1 person

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