Monday, April 12, 2010

Re-incarnation Through Reading

Forgive me for going a bit mystic on you for a moment. It will connect, I promise.

Earlier this week I watched a documentary on Buddha. One of the things they talked about was finding enlightenment from all the lives we live through re-incarnation. I don't exactly believe in re-incarnation and I'm not about to convert to Buddhism but somehow the thought stuck with me. In it I found an answer to a question I have been asked over and over.

Why do we read? Why do we write?

There have been many answers suggested by various sources and I have tried all of them on for size, never quite feeling like I've got it right.

The answer most often given is escapism. We use books to transport us to another world when we find we can't quite cope with this one. This is a stigma attached especially to fantasy junkies like myself.

"We Read to know that we are not alone" (this one is from my old friend C.S. Lewis). We Read to see that others experience the same joys and sorrows and confusions that we do.

Literature has been described as a mirror, reflecting reality.

Literature has been described as a light, inspiring us to change reality.

Probably the closest I've come to the answer is Dickens' concept of "Mooreeffoc" ("Coffee room" backwards) of using literature to see reality in a new way.

Here is my new answer:

We read to come to terms with ourselves. To seek enlightenment.

Think of every book we read as another life we live. Re-incarnation if you will.

It is an answer that is almost not an answer because it encompasses all the others.

It is escapism because we must step outside of what we perceive as ourselves to partake of this other life.

Through this experience we do learn that we are not so very unique in our struggles. That we are not alone.

We see the reflection of new pieces of reality that we might not have otherwise noticed.

We see light we never imagined the the visions of others


we emerge back into our reality, seeing it in a different way.

We are closer to knowing ourselves.

Of course sitting down to a cozy mystery or romance might not always seem like a path to enlightenment. The effect will usually be much more sudden than ant kind of epiphany but emerging yourself in someone else's world for a period of time will help you find piece in your own world. Just make sure you always know how top come back.


  1. Good post, and great thoughts. Sometimes writing my own books is like this, too, (literally, in the case of my current one), and I find that the longer I spend with or in any one story, the harder it is to come back. I always do, of course, I'm just not always happy about it. :)

  2. Nice post... I'm not too much into books (or any media) enlightening me, but there's no greater experience, IMO, than becoming fully immersed in an author's world for the escapism you mention -- it's like sprinting on a treadmill without the pain and all the joy -- everything else just slips away.