A post by Life of a Thinker posed the question – “Why do you read?” and it really got me thinking about my motivation for reading. What is it that I love so much about books and literature – to the point I chose to study for English Literature and Language A-levels before continuing to a degree? Liam’s post featured a quote by George Martin which explained it far better than I will be able to:
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
I couldn’t help but try to express my love of words through a quick comment on the post which was my feeble attempt at explaining why I love reading, and particularly fictional tales.
I think I might be addicted to reading – I can’t be happy unless I have one or more books on the go. I adore the escapism of it all, the crazy characters and feeling like I am learning and developing my own character through the experiences of those in the narrative. Reading is something I have loved all my life so it has become a way of life for me rather than just a hobby.
Today, I looked out of my window and over at the school field opposite where hundreds of children were running around like crazy while dressed up as their favourite fictional characters for World Book Day. I think it is great that the children have a special day for celebrating their favourite stories and exploring their love of reading – but it makes me a little sad that there has to be a specific day for this. Growing up, every day was World Book Day for me. I would spend hours reading stories by Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, fairytales and basically anything I could get my hands on. I would save my pocket money and insist my parents took me to the market where I would stock up on new books by my favourite authors at the second-hand book stall, only to have finished reading them by the following day.
I continued to love reading throughout school and would always have read extra books on top of the recommended reading or set books for class – I know, what a geek. Later, I would get told off for not reading my textbooks because I was too busy reading my novels. When choosing my A-levels, it was a clear cut decision that two of them would be English Literature and English Language, and choosing to study both at university in a combined course was again, the easiest decision of my life.
I chose to study at the University of Hertfordshire because despite it asking for the lowest number of UCAS points, it actually offered the greatest range in reading topics and genres of fiction. I had the opportunity to study modules in fairy tales and dystopian fiction under great professors who were extremely respected in their field. My favourite English Literature module had to be dystopian literature because it finally gave me a wider understanding of why I enjoyed those end of the world books and films so much.
I loved the way that the authors had really let their imaginations run wild to create these unique and destructive worlds, many of them incredible far-seeing for their time and making specific comments on the current socio-political situations in the country of the authors, or across the world, at the time of writing. It was fascinating to read conflicting ideas across different texts – the most memorable of these being the chaos and violence of A Clockwork Orange compared with the control of 1984. Both fantastic novels and with George Orwell’s offering it was also interesting to study the language he creates alongside my language studies.
I loved the way that these stories always seemed to centre around a journey of some kind, usually that of the unhappy individual who is seeking freedom from the system around him. Searching for an escape – well can’t we all identify with this? The characters, despite those that on the surface appear unusual, all boil down to those basic representations of different sectors of society that are instantly recognisable and translate to our own culture. This makes the stories seem so relevant even now, despite some being published decades ago. I think that is something that makes these novels so important, that although fictional, they were written to make a specific point and comment on fears for future societies. It is interesting to read some of them years after initial publication and to see how accurate the author’s predictions were – take the reproductive technology, psychological manipulation and use of sleep learning in Brave New World.
I’ve loved reading these novels and having the opportunity to study them and the background, motivations and social commentary behind the story – it really helped me gain a deeper insight into both them and the lives of the authors. It also fuelled a fascination with this genre of fiction and led to me continuing to read sequels such as Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, and various other novels such as The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin. I also found it very interesting when reading The Hunger Games series to look at it in the same way as the novels on the course – far more interesting to look at social and political motivations than at the love triangle between the main characters!
If you love reading and are looking for a new genre to try out, or you fancy trying out some different dystopian novels, I would seriously recommend the following books. They really changed the way I look at the world, and to me, that is the most important thing about reading.
- A Clockwork Orange and 1984 are amazing read straight after each other – such contrasts between the different worlds.
- Fahrenheit 451 is about a world where books are outlawed and must be burnt – a world any keen reader would be terrified of.
- Anything by Margaret Atwood always has me hooked – The Handmaid’s Tale was the first I read, but Oryx and Crake, followed by Year of the Flood, really questioned my view of the world.
- The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin were very long reads but worth sticking with and finishing – two of my favourite books and total escapism.
Have you got any dystopian recommendations to share? Leave me a comment and tell me about your favourite reads.