Why I Read by Julie Orringer

An occasional feature in our email newsletter is the "Why I Read" column. We've collected some wonderful short essays on the topic from fine writers over the years. Here's one from Julie Orringer, author most recently of The Invisible Bridge, our June 2010 Book of the Month. (blurb and funny video here). The Invisible Bridge is now in paperback, or the eBook is $9.99 here.

Here's Ms. Orringer's essay:

At first it was because I couldn’t help it. When I was four, those mysterious and ubiquitous symbols I saw everywhere began to resolve into units of meaning. I saw that the written word could stop cars, could get you out of a burning building; I was impressed, and kept reading. I wanted to possess the whole strange English language. I found it hilarious that the words “Crumb” and “Thumb” ended with B’s, and felt I’d uncovered an esoteric secret when I learned that SCHOOL contained an H. Of course, the whole point was to be able to attain that pinnacle of erudition: the ability to read a Chapter Book. Christopher Robin was the subject of my first crush. Soon I became a word-traveler; I inhabited the Hundred Acre Wood, the Secret Garden, the Little House on the Prairie, the Chocolate Factory, Middle Earth, Oz, and a thousand other places.

When I started writing, reading became an endlessly complicated and fascinating answer to the question, how? At times—as when I read Shakespeare,Tolstoy, George Eliot, or, more recently, Shirley Hazzard, Stephen Dunn, Charles D’Ambrosio—it leads only to a deeper and more awestruck restatement of the question. I read for the sheer pleasure of seeing them do it: again and again, with infinite variety, they say those things that are most difficult to articulate. They tell us what it’s like to be human, and what it means; they turn on the lights to reveal love and loss and pain, and I find it impossible to look away.
PS. Other installments of the series await you by Beth Lisick, Susan Choi, Peter Rock, Dave Eggers, Daniel Handler, TC Boyle, Joyce Maynard, Peter Carlson, Peter Coyote, and Jennifer Traig.