Why Read?

This is a response to these two articles, both of which discuss, like last week’s post, the benefit and/or purpose of reading.

First of all, I much prefer Parks’s article because it automatically assumes that we read for a purpose, whatever that purpose may be. However, it seems to me that Parks end up preferring older books, giving unsatisfactory reasons as to the value of reading contemporary literature. For me, as a writer, I have to believe that new books have value. Each generation deserves to have a culture of their own, and literature is a hugely important part of that culture. Of course it’s important to read classics because they give us a glimpse into a past society, and that’s exactly why new books should be read and written—future Americans should be able to look back on us and how we lived.

Siegel’s article is, to put it gently, infuriating. Siegel talks about a study that shows that reading literature sharply increases empathy. You would think this is a good thing, but Siegel seems to disagree, saying that empathy is also the mark of sociopaths. Are you serious? The basis of Siegel’s argument is that he doesn’t want literature to serve a measurable purpose—it should be an accepted leisure activity. My question: why can’t it be both? Why can’t some relaxing activity also affect a positive change in those who undertake it?