Why Reading Matters . . . .or The Beauty of Books

Elizabeth Bolin, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

We’ve all been there.

Mrs. Brown (or another English teacher) excitedly hands out the newest book you will be reading, discussing, obsessing, even dreaming about. You get home, open the cover and consider, “I wonder if this is on SparkNotes…”

I’m here to tell you, that as hard as it can be to read some of the books gifted to us by the English department (DITLOID, I’m looking at you), it’s so worth the time and energy.

One, I don’t know about you, but I love reading. However, this doesn’t mean that I do it as often as I should. Reading a whole book is a time commitment that a lot of us feel that we cannot make. With school, extracurriculars, and the constant battle with sleep deprivation, it’s hard to prioritize reading a book. Reading the English book is homework, and it’s a nice break from the constant mental exercise we are undergoing with math and science.

Furthermore, these books have intense meaning embedded in the story. There’s a reason The Scarlet Letter and Heart of Darkness are considered “classics.” We can stand to learn something from them. Believe it or not, they also might impact you.

Masterful writers have a beautiful ability to suck you into the story and make you relate to the characters, even if you are a sixteen-year-old girl imagining life as Jay Gatsby. These characters are undeniably human, and all share characteristics and face challenges that can resonate with us… if you let them.

This year, I read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in my IB English HL II class, and I can confidently say I think about that book every single day.

I fell in love with this play, its witty repartee and the themes it explores. What is the relationship between freedom and fate? Art and life? Life and death? What does it mean to “live in a box” or “be asleep in a box.” Is life in a box better than no life at all? Are we living in a box? Heads or tails? Most of all, how should we react to an absurd world?

I would go so far as to classify my world as at least slightly absurd. Now, I am thankfully not stuck as a background character in another, more important person’s story. But I am helpless in the face of absurdities done to my world at the hands of my fellow humans. Climate change, school shootings and even photoshop all lend an absurd lens to the reality I live in, and sometimes it is impossible to accept or even understand.

When I face this, I turn to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They are doomed from the beginning. They are arguably never alive. Yet, they still maintain the human characteristics we all hold dear. Their actions are futile, they cannot even leave the stage, so how do they cope? Humor, word games and sarcasm… a reaction I can admire. They are constantly questioning, something I (and I believe most) can relate to. We watch them struggle with their incomprehensible world in a way that is undeniably human, poignant and powerful. It is as inspiring as it is disheartening.

I think everyone can read this book because the characters themselves serve as examples for how to attempt to live. Rosencrantz is innocent, a little stupid, and oh so hopeful. Guildenstern is cynical and biting. Watching the two of them argue and banter is similar to my own inner monologue.

Although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead does not have the same inspirational message as other books, I think its message is powerful just the same. We are frequently helpless in an absurd world… what are you going to do about it? If I didn’t read the play in my English class… I would never know the answer to that.