In Stet: An Editor's Life, Diana Athill explains why books have meant so much to her:
"It is not because of my pleasure in the art of writing, though that has been very great. It is because [books] have taken me so far beyond the narrow limits of my own experience and have so greatly enlarged my sense of the complexity of life: of its consuming darkness, and also - thank God - of the light which continues to struggle through."
That's as good a reason as any to read, and unless our reading follows a particularly narrow path, it is one which will apply to most of us. But what else is there?
Finding it hard to analyse, I took as an example the first and third books I mentioned in the last post, ones which I found particularly powerful and effective and enjoyed enormously, and could commend for various qualities such as strong narrative 'pull', beautifully realised setting, characters who invite empathic engagement, economy, balance, restraint and regularity in the unfolding of the story which must itself be finished and complete (i.e. no 'joins' visible), deep but understated passion - if they were pieces of music they would send shivers down your spine.
That being so, why do I seek such books and rejoice when I find them?
The word which came to mind when I considered that question was 'exquisite', defined by the OED thus: "extremely beautiful and delicate; intensely felt; highly sensitive or discriminating". A book of which that can be said provokes in this reader an emotional reaction (albeit at one remove from that of 'real' life, and to a greater or lesser degree according to subject matter), and a correspondingly positive and visceral response to the book's aesthetic in the widest sense. Experiencing any art form is to go in pursuit of perfection (back to 'exquisite' again), so that, I suppose, is why I read.
Why do you read?