One of the great questions that we all ask ourselves for those who enjoy reading is Why Do We Read? In my own work on literature, I argue that reading is about participating in the pilgrimage of the human condition—that the unread life isn’t worth living.
When we pick up books and encounter names and faces, so near and so far, so familiar and unknown to us, we encounter ourselves and desires in these names and faces. Love is the central focus of all literature and the heart, pardon the pun, of the human condition. Whether it is the love that is manifested through pity and compassion, the love manifested through mercy and forgiveness, the love manifested through eroticism and marriage, the love manifested in self-sacrifice for others, the love that is coming of age and encounter one’s life partner, the love that becomes lust in envy, jealousy, or hatred, love really is the central cornerstone of our existence and is embodied in literature in numerous ways. All great stories have that central theme in them that invite us to their journey which is also an invitation to grow deeper in our own journey.
We love them, we become them, precisely they speak to some aspect of our own life, soul, and condition. Because stories speak of love and love grounds our existence, we form an indelible and lifelong relationship with stories, with books. That is why we pick up and read. We not only join others in a journey who have gone before us, we also grow in our own ongoing journey through the journey of pages. In reading we come to better understand those magisterial words of William Blake: “For mercy has a human heart, pity a human face, and Love, the human form divine.”
Hesiod, Paul Krause in real life, is the editor-in-chief of VoegelinView. He is writer, classicist, and historian. He has written on the arts, culture, classics, literature, philosophy, religion, and history for numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of The Odyssey of Love and the Politics of Plato, and a contributor to the College Lecture Today and the forthcoming book Making Sense of Diseases and Disasters. He holds master’s degrees in philosophy and religious studies (biblical studies & theology) from the University of Buckingham and Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in economics, history, and philosophy from Baldwin Wallace University.
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