A few years ago the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan, non-advocacy, research organization, ran a survey asking people why they like to read and not surprisingly people read books for a variety of reasons. But, below are some of the top answers.
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27% said they find reading enjoyable in terms of escapism, immersion into imaginary worlds, and being entertained by a good drama or plot.
26% said they like learning or gaining new knowledge.
12% said they value the quiet time it provides.
4% said they want spiritual enrichment.
Other reasons included: wanting to be mentally challenged, having the ability to access innumerable topics, expanding their worldview, and keeping their sanity.
Although none of the answers were particularly surprising, they did make me think three things as a writer. First, entertainment from a novel is likely to come from good descriptions of people and places, good characters who show emotion, and good plots, which probably include some type of suspense to afford the escapism.
The other thing the answers made me think was that novelists who include some form of new knowledge in their books are likely the ones who are selling well. That is, they teach people about something, some activity, some unique group of people, some past event, some moral answer to a question, some historical tidbit.
Lastly, the answers made me think that it might be beneficial in advertising campaigns or in blurbs to highlight some of the benefits of reading the story, such as the book being a tool to provide quiet time where readers will be immersed in an enjoyable imaginary world that not only has great characters and an entertaining plot but also provides good information on some interesting topic or universal question.
My guess is that these categories are not mutually exclusive either in the sense of only reading one book. Yes, great books probably include everything that readers desire. But, I bet many readers read different books to fulfill their different desires and some readers likely read those different books at the same time.
Right now I just finished a nonfiction book about the history of humans called “Sapiens,” and I am still in the middle of three novels from two genres (fantasy and young adult literary fiction) as well as in the middle of another nonfiction book–a biography about a past religious leader. So, it looks like I’m doing all of the categories: reading for entertainment, escapism, imaginary worlds, new knowledge, and spiritualism.
Thank goodness for books! (And for those school teachers and other people who taught us to read!)
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