It’s not that you expect anything in particular from this particular book. You’re the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything. There are plenty, younger than you are or less young, who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from what tomorrow has in store. But not you. You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst. This is the conclusion you have reached, in your personal life and in general matters, even international affairs. What about books? Well, precisely because you have denied it in every other field, you believe that you may still grant yourself legitimately this youthful pleasure of expectation in a carefully circumscribed area like the field of books, where you can be lucky or unlucky, but the risk of disappointment isn’t serious.
~ Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
Cheap thrills. Jules Renard said that “it is when faced with death that we are most bookish.” If that’s so, it’s not because we hope to find between the pages of our novel the universal cure to all pathologies. It might be that the morbidly bookish are looking for some kind of philosophical-aesthetic perspective on what it is they’re about to lose. But more likely, I think, it’s because staring down the Grim Reaper for any length of time can leave us particularly keen for distraction. We want a little joyride before Dad takes away the keys. And a book, as a vehicle for hopeful distraction, tends to get better gas mileage than most.