The reasons why we read books in 2022
This post is the first in a series of six posts on our findings from our State of the Reader 2022 survey. We conduct this survey every year to shed light on who readers are and what makes them tick.
Let’s be honest: choosing to read is a commitment!
Here at Italic Type, we firmly believe that it's a worthwhile and rewarding one. But even if you’re the speediest speedreader alive, books take time!
Listening to a song takes a few minutes. Watching a movie lasts a few hours. Scrolling social media — well, that’s a liquid in the sense that it inevitably expands to fill whatever container you give it. Reading a book, on the other hand, can take days or even weeks. And most of us have no shortage of competing demands.
So in our increasingly frenetic world, with our declining attention spans and our late-stage capitalistic emphasis on productivity!! all the time!!, what is it about reading that draws us in?
For some, it's precisely the fact that reading does take time. Respondents consistently and vocally opined that in 2022, the inherent slowness of books was a feature, not a bug.
As one explained, “I love how reading teaches me patience. I find that I'm less rushed and carried away with things when I'm actively reading because I can't really rush a book. In a world where people respond to emails within minutes and everyone seems to need answers ASAP, it can be hard to remember that it's often better to pause, breathe, and think about what I'm doing, saying, committing to, etc. Reading is a kind of antidote to the fast paced nature of things.”
Time is a requirement for immersing yourself in a story — the top reason to read in 2022.
Over the past year, we identified seven distinct reading motivations. And in 2022, by far the most popular was To immerse myself in a story, whether true or fictional (be transported to another time and place, “lose myself” in the experience of reading, etc.). Nearly all respondents identified it as one of the reasons they read (96%), and nearly two-thirds as the top reason they read (63%).
So what’s the connection? At the most basic level, immersing yourself in a story requires time! While a two-minute TikTok video may be an absorbing experience, it’s not a truly immersive one — as soon as you’re done, you’re onto the next. New! More! Faster! Such overstimulation isn’t only unhelpful for processing and reflection, it’s antithetical to it. And readers recognize that.
“I love that reading is an escape but is the exact opposite of mindlessness (vs other escapes like social media). It brings me to places I've never been, allows me to inhabit the minds, experiences, perspectives, and feelings of an infinite number of people and characters … I am the best version of myself when I read!”
What other reading motivations resonated in 2022?
Virtually all respondents said that multiple reading motivations resonated with them; on average, they selected four or five of the seven as applicable. In other words, there was no shortage of reasons to read!
While strong overlap existed across all seven reading motivations, two associations stood out as particularly powerful:
- Respondents who read to make their brains feel good were especially likely to also immerse themselves in a story. In the words of one who valued both, “I overthink and stress and plan constantly. Reading is one of the only things I do where my whole brain gets to stop and focus on just one thing, the book at hand!”
- Respondents who read to look outward were especially likely to also look inward. As one put it (beautifully!), “I love that books make me think about big issues and emotions, and how my reactions or thought processes might differ from a character’s reactions and thought processes. The best books are both a window and a mirror.”
Why else did respondents love to read?
Above and beyond the motivations listed above, many respondents — particularly those who most strongly identified as avid readers — emphasized via follow-ups that they read because they simply can’t imagine not. Because it fulfills them in a deep and inimitable way. Because it connects them to their earliest memories, inspires or changes them for the better, or makes them feel more authentically themselves than anything else.
Next: Discovering, choosing, and accessing books. Where did our books come from in 2022?