The love of reading is a given among anyone who has finished all five (current) books of Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire. While Tyrion’s love for history and Samwell Tarly’s fascination with wisdom may be obvious, Martin slips a lovely passage on books and reading into a conversation between Bran and Jojen in A Dance with Dragons (pg. 452):
Bran did not understand, so he asked the Reeds. “Do you like to read books, Bran?” Jojen asked him.
“Some books. I like the fighting stories. My sister Sansa likes the kissing stories, but those are stupid.”
The build-up plays on timeworn gender distinctions—namely, boys love fighting and girls love romance—but the payoff comes immediately after:
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.”
Jojen virtually repeats C. S. Lewis’s famous aphorism: “in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself” (An Experiment in Criticism, pg. 141). Yet Martin presses the idea one step further and uses the analogy to imply an organic unity within all creation. The consequences for Bran are, to say the least, profound.
One reason so many of us love to read—and not just any reading, I think, but stories of imagination, especially—is for the opportunity to live another life, to bear the suit and armor of the warrior, to feel the embrace of a lover. One life is wonderful, but sharing a thousand lives—”their histories and prayers, everything they knew about this world”—is a gift. It’s the reason I, for one, keep reading.