In the Stacks: Why do we read what we read?

Agassiz's librarian learns to love a new style of book

Battleship by Dorothy Ours is a great read about a topic Terrill Scott has learned to love.

Battleship by Dorothy Ours is a great read about a topic Terrill Scott has learned to love.

Why do we read what we read? Good question.

It sounds easy to answer, but have you ever picked up a book, leafed through it and thought it’s not your kind of book, but you find yourself taking it to the check out? At the library, it’s free to try, so you decide you will just have a look at it. If you don’t like it after the first couple of chapters, back it goes! Into the book drop, done and dusted.

A lot of us pick our reading in predictable ways — going straight to the ‘R’ shelf to pick up a favourite author, Nora Roberts, anyone? Or, we are hung up on a topic, and just can’t get enough of it — I know all you closet forensic pathologists are out there!

This goes for non-fiction too. You may be hooked on biographies or books about the Second World War.They never end, and so, likely you can always find something to take home. This is all fine and dandy, but sadly, I have witnessed people who will walk away, empty handed, heart broken because there isn’t something in that specific realm of reading that jumps out at them that day.

Their fave author is writing way too slow lately, or the biographies on the shelf are of boring people. Yes, FVRL is amazing with its floating collection that will deliver you something in fairly short order, but maybe this is the day you wonder about why you read what you read, and make a little change or step into a different aisle. There are studies done on this, and some of the reasons discovered are very scientific, and these unknowingly, you read your picks because it relieves stress, improves memory, increases ability to concentrate, increases knowledge etc. etc.

You see now why you reach for a Kathy Reichs. It is is de-stressing to picture her in the morgue, incising bones for the purpose of determining COD (cause of death, silly!)

Learning is also a major reason for the books you choose to take home, and that is obvious, but do you just want to learn to operate your iPad? Is the only thing you need to know at the moment is how to fix the 1982 Ford Fiesta sitting in your garage?

In the top ten list of why we read what we read, here is the good one: we read to immerse ourselves in something different. The academics describe reading as “one of the most human endeavors” and by reading, this connection allows us to expand our world. With that in mind, I will illustrate by offering a brief example of how you can read what you don’t know, don’t have an interest in and, be a person that is “bigger on the inside”.

I am a murder/mystery hound, a biography nut and I love reading CanLit. Those are my go-to reads. I have discovered, thankfully, through time as a bookseller and librarian, that there is something exciting and fulfilling about reading the book less opened. Here is how it happened.

When I was a little girl, I was never a “horse girl”, one of those that thought, read, dreamed, wanted to be with horses. They scared the dickens out of me, and the closest my interest came in them was wanting to BE a pony.

I never threatened my parents that  I would die if I didn’t GET the requisite pony. (As an aside, there is a great Shel Silverstein poem about a little girl with the ‘I want a pony or I will die’ wish. Google it, it’s called Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony. I am not going to spoil it for you.) My hair was long, and I wore it in a ponytail, what can I say.

That stage didn’t last long, thankfully and I moved on to biographies and decided peeking in on people’s lives was way better than developing a perfect canter when I ran. Fast forward to me as grown up, and one day I watched a movie called Seabiscuit. Remarkable – and as I do when I see a movie I like, I research the background, and look for related books. And it happened that easily. I have now read several horse stories. I read about Man O War, Secretariat and Northern Dancer. This even led to me being one of the many who, with toes and fingers crossed, watched as “our” jockey out of Hastings Park, Mario Gutierrez made a run at the Triple Crown in 2012 riding a Canadian owned horse, I’ll Have Another.

Yes, I learned how to drink Mint Juleps, yes I was sad when we (see how I have become a horsy girl!) didn’t win the whole shebang. I didn’t plan but, by taking one chance, I discovered I enjoyed the horse story. It expanded my world to explore books that are completely different.

I was therefore thrilled to see a shiny book come in this past week called Battleship: A Daring Heiress, A Teenage Jockey and America’s Horse, by Dorothy Ours. How could I not pick this one up! Battleship was a little horse, bred for flat track racing, but after a lack of success in this, was purchased by Marion du Pont (the daring heiress) of Dupont Chemical family fame. This nondescript animal was re-trained and went on to win the American Grand National Steeplechase. With this new career, Battleship then traveled to England to compete in the granddaddy of all steeplechases held in Liverpool, THE Grand National. The jockey, Bruce Hobbs at age 17 (the teenager) agreed to ride the small stallion Battleship (America’s horse) in the premier competition in England’s horse world. A story is born.

So there it is, why did I ever read about horses in the first place? A bit of luck, I took a chance – horses and horse racing are not what I thought I was interested in. What happened though, is I was entertained by the peek into the life and paddocks of horse people, I learned some new words, and I became part of another group of people and therefore, increased my human quotient! I didn’t plan it, but that is how it played out. As they say, if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Next time you are in the library, wonder for a moment, why you read what you read, then pick the book that is beyond your usual reach.

Get involved

As I don’t expect you to spend all your time reading, I do like to make sure you are getting out and about in our towns, taking part in the local events that make Agassiz-Harrison a wonderful place to hang out. It’s nice to leave the valley, but these are the days it is great to stay close for a good outing. Sunday, Oct. 27, I hope to see you out with your wee ones at the Halloween Costume Parade. We will meet at Spirit Square, I have a happily ghoulish storytime all ready, some treats to give away, cookies and most important, a chance for the kids to give their costumes a test drive. It’s the first annual Harrison Costume Parade, so meet me at 2 p.m. for this super Sunday afternoon.

Speaking of local weekend, there is more! On Saturday, Nov. 2 at 1 pm, you can watch a fascinating program about one of BC’s most famous ghost towns, Sandon. If you are a history buff, a ghost town buff or want to enjoy a great visual and spoken presentation by a passionate BC historian, John Mitchell, please drop by Agassiz Library. Sandon is the located in B.C.’s famed Valley of the Ghosts and at one time had a population of 10,000. While it is interesting that Sandon was the prime mineral mining community, (don’t fall asleep yet!) what makes it worth the historical visit is the fact that it boasted an opera house, library, post office … and about 28 saloons, and one of the largest ‘red light districts’ in Western Canada! Drop in, it’s free, bring a friend and enjoy this great local afternoon. Coffee is on us.

Last but not least, I want to put the bug in everyone’s ear about one of Agassiz Library’s best loved kids programs that is coming soon, and that is the Lego© Buildup. If you know any kids who love their Lego©,  get them ready to share their creations and enjoy a week that is all about the building. From Nov. 19 to 22 kids can bring in their works of imagination for display in the library, and then take part in the awards day on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 1 pm. This is really fun for the whole family, so come, build, show off and enjoy.

It is now off to the land of dust jackets for me, but see you in the stacks with question marks hovering over your heads, and the answers at your fingertips.