Why one takes to a book remains mysterious to me. The best I can make of it is that, as Wayne Booth proposes in The company we keep, reading a novel is like meeting someone and becoming a friend, having a companion over a certain kind of journey. In a friendship, two minds can meet, and one's thoughts and feelings are taken up, and extended by the other. In a piece of fiction, the idea of friendship is enlarged: one allows oneself not just to be with other people but to become them. One enacts the work in one's own mind, articulating thoughts and ideas, and feeling emotions that one would not otherwise have had, but which one finds it enlightening to have, which extend the self.
Not liking a book seems to me like meeting someone with whose mind I cannot connect, not necessarily because I don't like the person, though sometimes that is the case. There is a mental space, into which I do not manage to extend myself, so I can't join that person. When this happens with an actual person, I can usually get along with him or her well enough if necessary, for instance if he or she is a colleague with whom I must work. I am polite, but the relationship proceeds without much affection, and I can accumulate grumbles about that person. When this happens with a book, the sense I have is of boredom—and there is again the accumulation of grumbles.
With a book one has to make a commitment of several days. It may be a bit calculating, but it seems to me that I ask: Will such a commitment be worth it? It is a matter of trust. In the reading group, I sometimes commit myself to a book to which I would not commit myself if I were reading on my own. Quite often, in that case, I am pleased I did make the commitment, and I enjoy hearing what others thought and felt.
But I still don't know how close friends manage to make some of the mental leaps that I cannot make into books that are the worlds of other minds?
Wayne Booth (1988). The company we keep: An ethics of fiction. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Steven Galloway (2008). The cellist of Sarajevo. Toronto: Knopf Canada.
William Makepeace Thackeray (1848) Vanity Fair. London: Penguin (current edition 1985).