The kind of question one can never answer

February 17, 2011

In 1949, the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer Books wrote about his love for reading on the back cover of a Gladys Taber novel, where we’re used to seeing blurbs about a book’s phenomenal-ness. He posed the question, “Why do I like to read?” and then answered it, but with a final sigh of doubt saying, “But it is the kind of question one can never answer. It remains beyond the bounds of definition…”.

The Philly editor was David Appel, who joined the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1946 and started the paper’s stand-alone book review section. The novel, which I came across in a used bookshop the other day, is Especially Father. Author Gladys Taber was a prolific mid-20th century writer the New York Times compared to Martha Stewart.  Taber wrote more than 50 books during her career, the most recognized being her Stillmeadow books. Stillmeadow was her 17th century farmhouse and surrounding land in Connecticut, where she lived and wrote. The setting and people figured into her fiction and non-fiction. Taber also wrote for Ladies Home Journal and Family Circle magazines.

There’s no earth moving new thought from Appel, nor a connection of his comment to the novel’s plot, that I can tell, only the wonder of its placement. Imagine something similar written by Ron Charles, book editor for The Washington Post, on the back of a Franzen novel. We’d be surprised enough, it just might sell the book.

I like what Appel says, especially the last line.  You can click on the image to read it, or read it below.


Why Do I Like to Read?
by David Appel, Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer Books

Perhaps it would be easier to explain why I love books. I recall the answer I gave to an aunt of mine who once asked me: “Why do you like to go to the library?”

I was very young then and not too ready with a reply. After some thought I said:

“Because I like the smell of books.”

Years later my aunt often laughingly remarked about my liking the “smell of books,” but I have never been able to find a more apt description of the attraction that they hold for me.

Ever since I can remember there have been books in my home. They have been as much a part of it as the dishes, or the chairs, and the walls themselves.

I can still remember the first book I ever owned. It was Stevenson’s ‘Child’s Garden of Verses,’ and I treasured my copy for years. I remember marching around the edge of the front room rug reciting the poems in order. When I grew a little older and acquired a much coveted library card, I firmly resolved to read every book in the branch library from Altsheler to Zola. I didn’t get much farther than Irving Bacheller, but I still think it was an admirable goal.

I doubt that I have answered the question. But it is the kind of question one can never answer. It remains beyond the bounds of definition, a delight, a mystery, a challenge.

Asking me why I like to read is like asking me why I like to breathe. It would be hard to go on living without doing both.

4 Responses to “The kind of question one can never answer”

  1. Sharon Says:

    I think it’s about the possibilities. It’s about where that book will take you — someplace you could never imagine, or someplace that’s inside you and someone finally put words to it. It’s intense, or transforming, or delightful, or heart-breaking. It stimulates and facilitates like nothing else can. That’s why I like to read. And of course the smell.


  2. Thanks for your comment! It makes me think of my second grade teacher, Mrs. Sinks, who would say to us “hop on a magic carpet ride” when she suggested we read a book.


  3. Enjoyed this post, Kassie.


  4. As many times as I’ve read Especially Father by Gladys Taber, I’ve never given much thought to Mr. Appel’s thoughts on the back cover. Reading it again, I like to think that Mrs. Taber’s memories of her father and her childhood transported him to thoughts of his Aunt and “the smell of books”.

    Thank you for an enjoyable post.


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