The Purpose of Books

A comment on the blog this week mentioned that one of the functions of books is to reflect our world.

That got me thinking. Do books reflect our world?

And what other purposes do books serve?

Why do we read them? Why do we write them?

In the larger sense, what functions do books serve in our culture?
What would happen if there were no more books?

Let me know your thoughts… and have a great weekend!
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  • Timothy Fish

    >I think books do much more than simply reflect our world. That is part of what they do, but unless they also point us in the direction the author thinks we ought to be going they have no purpose.

    • jcbear7

      i dont think that books reflect on the world its what happend to the world it makes us think how we even thought of this it gives you ideas

  • Gwen Stewart

    >Books do more than reflect our word. Books explore frontiers. They don't just reflect what is–they imagine what's possible.

    And I think that's what draws people in storytelling, music, art and theater–the ability to be in one place, physically, while in the mind explore regions, ideas, and people unknown.

    I believe the propensity to explore frontiers is intrinsic in us. We're curious. Our minds like to be engaged–and if our imagination gets in on the fun, well, we're hooked.

    Will books always be around to fill that need? I can't say anymore. I think stories and ideas will, for sure….

  • Jessica Nelson

    >No books??? I hope that day never comes while I'm still breathing. However, I think there will always be storytelling in some shape or form, ust maybe not always as ink on a page.

  • Cecelia Dowdy

    >Why do we read them? Why do we write them?
    >>>I read books because they are an enjoyable form of entertainment – it's one of the few things that I've enjoyed, consisttently, since childhood.
    >>>I write books because…well, because I admire authors and I've imagined myself as an author for several years before I got published. It's a career that I like, and that's why I write books.

    What would happen if there were no more books?
    >>>I think our culture would revert back to oral storytelling. Or people will place pen to paper and read their thoughts/stories to groups of people, kind of like those functions that writers (and poets) have at coffee houses.

  • Carole

    >Books served to educate me and open my eyes to places, people, ideas, that I might never have known.

    A world of no books? Impossible. It would be a dumbing down of humans in a horrendous way.

  • Krista Phillips

    >WOW… I'm not sure I can be philisophical this early in the morning…

    I know for ME… books serve a purpose of both entertainment and escape. Instead of watching a movie… I'll sit down with a good book and let the movie play in my head. Yet other times, when everything seems overwhelming, I grab a book, shut my door, and just get a way for a while. Since we're told to fill our books full of conflict, it's usually helpful to see someone else going through crap and overcoming it, even if it is fiction. And it gets my mind off my troubles for a few hours.

  • Jason

    >The best books whether fiction or non-fiction expose the writer's heart. Tolkien is a great example…in spite of all the goblins, wizards, wars, etc… The "Rings" books aren't dark at all. They're actually full of nobility and hope, which weren't manufactured, but are a reflection of the writer.

  • Jason

    >What would happen if there were no books?

    To me that's like asking what would happen if triangles had four sides. There can't be humans and no books in the same reality. If we didn't have the *medium* of the book, we'd just write on scrolls or cave walls or on our hands like Sarah Palin. :) But we would write…somehow!

  • XDPaul

    >The purpose of storytelling is sub-creation. God spoke, and began us, his reflection. The middle of that story starts when we break, and the climax comes when God attempts a restoration against all odds.

    If we are made in God's image, our books and stories' are made in the image of God's Word.

    So books, all books, are verbal extensions of the author's relationship to the Maker. That relationship may be vibrant, healthy and joyful and made whole by Christ. It may be broken, sinful and corrupting.

    Mailer, Nabokov, Updike, Alcott, Tartt, O'Connor, Sinclair Lewis, C.S. Lewis, Cervantes, Rowling: all made in the image of God, all gifted by the Word (source of words) to sub-create, and though not all are saved, all have seen God sacrificed for them, and each one illuminates the details of their relationship to Him – a turning toward, or turning away – the fruits of faith or the rot of disbelief.

  • MJR

    >I remember how moved I was by the first library book I read to myself–LITTLE BLACK, A PONY. I still feel that same excitement every time I pick up a new book.

    Books help me escape, educate me, help me step into someone else's shoes, and have been constant companions my entire life.

    As far as their function in culture, imagine if the ancient Greeks hadn't written everything down? Even in our hyperactive information age when everyone is constantly clicking from one thing to the next, we need books to help us make sense of everything, to get us to think, to slow us down, and to give us some perspective. I can't think of anything else (except music) that preserves the thoughts, dreams, and history of a culture.

    Books rule!

  • Patti Struble

    >Books are a form of escapism; a window into another world where things are mystical & magical on a variety of levels. They reflect our inner dreams, hopes & desires. But, they also allow us to tap into a vast world of possibilities. I could not imagine a world without books. A worse fate however would be a world without the ability to imagine the immense possibilities.

  • Rowena

    >I think books do reflect our world, but not so much a direct reflection. I think books (and movies, too) reflect the deeper fears and yearnings in our world. Why the proliferation of vampire novels? It's not just because Twilight was a success and made money. Twilight was a success because it tapped into those fears and yearnings.

    And we, as humans, have always told stories. These are the media we use today. I can't see them going away. We HAVE to tell our stories. And we need to listen/read/watch the stories.

  • Beth

    >Each book reflects the author's perspective at the time it is written, so in a general sense, if you think of the world as being the way it was at the time when the book was written, it might, perhaps, "reflect the world," but not really. One book can't reflect anything more than what an individual has to offer. But books as a whole grouping tend to reflect society at the time they are written. They are many portions of a time capsule which preserves the way society was at one particular time.

    To me, that is the real value of a book. I can experience Jane Austen's world, which is long gone, just because she wrote about it. I shudder to think of the lost worlds that we will never know because of the authors who only thought about writing books instead of actually writing them.

  • Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

    >Stories can do many things: they can open our minds; let us experience our past, our future, or worlds that can never be; they can put us inside of someone else's head or let us live out our deepest wishes. They can be used to share values or to question them. Heroes and heroines can also act as role models, both positive and negative.

    I don't think storytelling will ever go away, though the way we tell stories may. Perhaps someday more stories will be shown instead of told. But I think books can allow you to get inside someone else's head in a way other mediums can't. If books do disappear, will that affect our ability to empathize with each other?

  • Suze

    >Books don't reflect the world – they reflect the hearts, minds and souls of humans… and that, to me, is much a much finer outcome :)

  • T. Anne

    >Books most definitely reflect our world. They also create a diversion from it, and bless us with that much needed escape. Have a blessed weekend Rachelle.

  • Alice

    >So I am not phlosophical, I just like a damn good story, without a commercial, and I if I have to do something else I can pick up where I left off.

  • kaderick

    >I think books are a record of our perspective according to time, culture and emotion, which are both ever changing factors. Though these elements change, the written record of their change (books) reminds us of one important constant: humanity is frail and in need of something outside of itself in order to be sustained.

  • lauradroege

    >Why do I write?

    For me, it comes down to my view of God's redemption. He takes our ugliness, our sin, our depravity, and redeems them for his glory. When I write a story or a book, I want to reflect:

    1) the reality of our fallen world . . .

    2) the hope that God can use our weaknesses for his purposes . . .

    3) the beauty that can be found in midst of the worst of tragedies.

    To quote a favorite singer (Sara Groves): "Oh tell me what you know/about God and the world and the human soul/how so much can do wrong/ and still there are songs."
    (Sub in stories for songs and think of songs/stories as representing beauty and hope.)

    My stories don't even have to use the name of God to do this, BTW.

  • lauradroege

    >Why do I write?

    For me, it comes down to my view of God's redemption. He takes our ugliness, our sin, our depravity, and redeems them for his glory. When I write a story or a book, I want to reflect:

    1) the reality of our fallen world . . .

    2) the hope that God can use our weaknesses for his purposes . . .

    3) the beauty that can be found in midst of the worst of tragedies.

    To quote a favorite singer (Sara Groves): "Oh tell me what you know/about God and the world and the human soul/how so much can do wrong/ and still there are songs."
    (Sub in stories for songs and think of songs/stories as representing beauty and hope.)

    My stories don't even have to use the name of God to do this, BTW.

  • Rachelle (Rose)

    >I think books not only reflect our world, but the world which we want the world to be. That's why I read, that's why I write: vision. Without vision, we would cease to grow.
    P.S.
    I stumbled upon your blog and have found it to be informative and interesting. Thank you! Plus, I love that we share the same first name!

  • annegreenwoodbrown

    >Sure! I think books reflect our world. But what is most important to me is what I, the reader, can reflect back into the book. The trouble with movies and television is that they rob me of my ability to imagine; whereas with a book there are many blanks my imagination is asked to fill in. To me, that is the great value of fiction.

  • Jana D

    >Words are powerful– and we need more good words!

  • Timothy Fish

    >Why do we read books and why do we write them?

    Well, it beats sitting at home watching the ceiling fan go ‘round and ‘round. But to be honest, I wrote my first book so I would have something to self-publish. As a reader, I’m looking for something to give me a different perspective of the world. As a writer, I want to give you, the reader, my view of the world, but I do so through a representational world. Through books we’re able to experiment with the world with no fear that we’ll do any real damage. They allow us to consider questions like, What would happen if I killed someone? or What if some were trying to kill me? or What if my whole family died? but we’re free to put the book down at any time and we aren’t a killers, no one is trying to kill us and our families are safe. To live through such things in real life wouldn’t be much fun.

    It isn’t just questions like that. When I look at romance novels, it occurs to me that the women who read them are experimenting with what it would be like to married to that tall dark Texan instead of the beach bum from California or to be married to the rich CEO rather than the factory worker. And then she puts the book down, watches her husband playing video games with the kids and everything is back to normal.

  • JP/deb

    >I agree with Gwen, books are a the mirror and the imagination. They show us ourselves and help us create ourselves. Books explain. Books question. Books teach. They have ideas and they are ideas.

    Hope you have a great weekend too!

    peace,
    JP/deb

  • John

    >I agree that the one of the most important functions of books is to reflect our world. For that matter, I think all art is created with that purpose. The Player in Shakespeare's "Hamlet" tells us that theater allows us to "hold a mirror up to nature." It's the same with literature and it both fascinates and inspires me.

  • Steve

    >The purpose of (fiction) books is just one way of expressing the purpose of STORIES. and the purpose of stories is no tmerely to reflect is is, or what has been, or even what might be. All those may be included, but the true purpose of stories is to use those reflections of fact to explore meaning. And ultimately, meanings are created. The storyteller who is able to create a new and more wonderful meaning for the mere facts of our existence is the unacknowledged artist that shapes our collective being.

    -Steve

  • etiquette bitch

    >I don't know that books entirely reflect our world…or maybe it takes awhile for our "world" to be reflected. Or only the aspects of our world that will sell get picked up.

    I have a memoir (written!) about this awful real estate crisis and the awful house I got stuck with. Five agents looked at it. All ultimately rejected it. Finally, another agent (personal friend) sat me down and told me that in good or bad times, books about houses don't sell, and that's why mine isn't getting picked up.

    It's fascinating that books about what went on in the finance world are getting published + sold, but stories about regular folks like me and the crap we had to deal with for the last 3 years are like a disease. No one wants 'em.

  • Jade

    >I think books reflect our perspective on the world; perhaps that's a too-subtle difference, but I think it's an important one. I write (not books) because I feel an overwhelming need to record my thoughts; when I write it down it makes sense to me. I gain clarity and insight, and every once in a while I have a fantastic story to tell.

  • patriciazell

    >I think most of us feel the need to understand our world and to share what is important to us. Books go a long way in fulfilling those needs. Whether books survive or not, writing and reading will survive even if the survival is just in an electronic format. We'll see how it all shakes out.

  • Steve

    >etiquette bitch said:

    "It's fascinating that books about what went on in the finance world are getting published + sold, but stories about regular folks like me and the crap we had to deal with for the last 3 years are like a disease. No one wants 'em."

    I think what's going on here is that most readers or potential readers ARE the "regular folks" and may have had an experience like this themselves or know somebody who has. People like to read about things new to them. Few people want to read about somebody going through the same depressing stuff they are.

    The world of finance is exotic, people want to peek in the window. The world of getting messed over is commonplace and most of us already know more about it than we want to anyway.

    'Fess up. Would you kick back and read such a memoir it it was somebody else's?

    -Steve

  • Claude Forthomme

    >Story telling is as old as civilization. It is part of the human condition. Now, in our society, it takes the form of printed books, e-books, theatre, movies etc It will never stop. There are those among us who need to tell (or show), those who listen (or look)and roles are constantly interchanged.

    So books will never disappear, they don't just serve a purpose, they are co-substantial with Life.

    That's why books (especially fiction and poetry) speak to emotions. That's also why books analyze our world and try to see what is Beyond.

    God, books are Everything!

    And thanks Rachelle for thinking to ask a BASIC question. We are all so involved in writing that we tend to forget what it is for!

  • Loree H

    >Do books reflect our world?
    Most do, some really don't.

    Why do we read them?
    I read for education, research, relaxation, and entertainment. I also love books that have no writing, just pictures or photographs. I am in awe of the artist or the photographer who can capture life without a word. The old saying that "a picture is worth a thousand words" is so true.

    Why do we write them?
    I write because of a want, need, and desire in my heart that I can't explain…even as a writer.

    In the larger sense, what functions do books serve in our culture?
    Expression and freedom…or the other way around.

    What would happen if there were no more books?
    That would be a very sad day. It's strange because with the Internet and all the hand held gadgets, it appears we are not far off from that. Seems in recent times, we do most of our reading off of screens, large or small. The days of opening a book, the smell of the ink, sound of the pages turning, and bringing it to your breast and hugging it after reading a moving paragraph are nearing it's end.

    I want to share a quote which I believe captures the reason we write:

    "A writer writes not because he is educated but because he is driven by the need to communicate. Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood. The writer wants to be understood much more than he wants to be respected or praised or even loved. And that perhaps, is what makes him different from others."
    Leo Rosten 1908-1997 – American Novelist

  • KM

    >I think books reflect culture, but they also shape it. It goes both ways. Authors write time-appropriate pieces that will register and appeal to the current culture, but they're always making an impression on people. They start trends and, to an extent, mold art the way they want. Just look at J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer. They both spurred near revolutions in children's and YA literature. They took what was popular and put a new spin on it.

  • Katy

    >I've always read to escape, to learn, to laugh, and to cry. Now, too, I read to absorb the craft of writing. From books that are amazingly spun tales with deep characterization and profound messages to fun and fresh guilty pleasure books, I find myself eagerly dissecting sentence structure, plotting, metaphors, themes and character arcs.

    And yes, I think many books do reflect our world. They're like little time capsules that lock away trends, world events, current attitudes and life lessons for people to read now and later.

  • Helen S

    >I've recently realized that books determine our history; the people who choose to write are more important than the ones who act out history; we rely on the books to describe the important things so we can teach them to our children

  • Susie

    >This is not my quote but I heard it (maybe C.S. Lewis)
    We read to know we are not alone.

    Honestly I love to read because it normalizes life, legitimizes our experiences, speaks to the human condition, and the ones i respond to the most give me hope for the journey.

    I respect anyone who attempts to articulate and convey the human experience.

  • Space Coast Conservative [dot]com

    >Do books reflect our world? Of course they do. They reflect the wide variety of human thought, experience, politics, imagination, creativity, hopes, despairs and perserverance that those who write either create, experience themselves or write about others experiencing.

    And what other purposes do books serve? Door stops. Very good door stops. The bigger the better. Also, booster seats.

    Why do we read them? Why do we write them? The answer to both questions is the same: to inspire, inform, provoke, subdue, educate, change, entertain, politicize, (etc., etc.), connect with, leave a history of, others or ourselves.

    In the larger sense, what functions do books serve in our culture? They serve to do all of the above and more. Also, they allow us to escape the present conditions of our lives and to go elsewhere without really going anywhere. Or to gain more information to apply to our present conditions that may help us win the argument, enhance our standing, or otherwise have a positive influence on what is going on within our personal experiences.

    What would happen if there were no more books? More people would take up writing to fill the void. There are electronic gadgets out there that allow you to download a book and read it on that gadget, so that tells us that books will go into the future with us because people are finding new, "more convenient" (matter of opinion, I'm sure), electronic ways to enable us to have books with us 24/7 without toting a five pound "Les Miserables" around with us.

  • Read Tracy Reed

    >Thank you. I have been waiting on this kind of information. As a new writer it helps knowing a little more about what to expect.

  • elaine @ peace for the journey

    >I think books reflect our world because books are a reflection of the heart of the people of this world. And last time I checked, people remain the most fascinating "study" of God's creative pulse. I might not always agree with the "reflection" but I will always champion the human heart. It's where eternity begins.

    peace~elaine

  • julia

    >I think books can do the same thing as a photograph. I think I prefer capture to reflect. They capture something that we want to focus on or spend some time thinking about.

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