Books and the self

September 23, 2016

As someone who teaches courses in editing and book culture, I am always looking for thoughtful writing about how readers interact with books. Adam Gidwitz’s essay “Books for Life” discusses how we may be identified by our favourite children’s books. He comes to an unexpected but striking conclusion:

When a child asks for the same book three hundred times, she is telling her parents what she needs to learn, what she needs to come to terms with. Adults do the same thing. Books are psychologists, using imagination therapy to elicit secrets that their readers did not know they kept.

Provoking! And I like it. This is a strong psychoanalytic essay. It’s not based in academic research and backed up by scholarly sources. Rather, Gidwitz’s claims arise from the observation of his own life, his friends’ lives, his lived experiences. His discussion is funny, poignant, stark, but mostly identifiable — or at least it is for me.

I have publicly questioned the simplistic endorsement of the claim that reading makes people more “human” — kinder, more considerate, more sensitive, more empathetic — although I don’t dispute the claim in itself. Gidwitz’s essay speaks insightfully to the reasons reading can help people develop greater emotional range and resilience. It’s definitely a text I’ll return to.

Source: Adam Gidwitz, “Books for Life,” published online here