Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Why we read

Why do you read? 

What is literature and how did it change your life?

Writer, poet, teacher and translator Christopher Alexander Gellert asks these questions and more in search of how literature has changed people's lives. His project, Why We Read, will take him from Normandy and the Basque Country to Alsace and Brittany to uncover these stories.

"Often you'll think of literature as a little bonus, an extra, and people write it off as something that doesn't have value or something that doesn't have real impact," says Gellert. "But literature is anything that is a written story. It's about the books that have touched you and moved you. When you read you are forced to pause and you are forced to think beyond yourself. Literature demands your attention in ways that other media do not."

Why We Read will explore how reading changes a person. Set against the backdrop of France, Gellert, who studied French literature and speaks French fluently, hopes to discover how literature can impact a person's life. 

"Literature is very intimate and can have enormous impact on our personal evolution," he says. "But it also defines and creates our relationship with others."

Naturally, these discussions will take place over a delicious meal which Gellert will prepare. The project will be tailored to the people who take part in it. It will be not only about what participants read, but what they love to eat, as well. Gellert plans to gather these stories over the course of a year and publish them in a book.

A book is something very intimate and you carry it within yourself after you read it, but it is also something shared, says Gellert. A meal is also a shared space, something that is very intimate. A book is also something that you have to digest and it may take a person years to assimilate. There is something very sacred in these ordinary things. Having a meal with someone. Reading a book. Asking questions. Finding out how that person has changed.

Gellert hopes to raise $26,000 for the project. The funds will go toward the cost of travel, preparation of meals and cost of living during the year-long research and writing of these stories.

"We need to be able to nourish our souls," he says. "To stop thinking that it is somehow secondary in the face of ever-changing technology, our emotional intelligence has not caught up. It's not only about how reading changes us, but putting that back at the center of the conversation. That it is fundamental."

To paraphrase Proust, "Reading is not an end unto itself, but it is about unlocking portals of consciousness."

Photo by Evan Bench (via Flickr).
Watch the full videos of Why We Read, click here.