By Katherine Hunter '19
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed…” So begins Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, part of the Dark Tower series, King’s magnum opus. Part western, part science fiction, part horror, the story revolves around Roland Deschain, who has made it his life goal to find the black tower that holds all of the worlds together (because, of course, there are many many different worlds in the series). Being very different from my usual young adult novels, it’s a book I never would have imagined myself enjoying. But I did. In fact, I loved it.
Not long ago, I would have been embarrassed to admit that I avidly read the eight books in the series, all 4,250 pages, in two months, especially because the story is anything but conventional. These books are filled with gunfights, monsters, magic portals, haunted houses, evil trains, vampires, and a shapeshifting spider. They’re weird. But my belief in the joy of reading is what keeps me up here telling this to you, despite being very nervous.
(You can listen here.)
I love the old-fashioned language of the classics, the easy flow of young adult books, and the suspense of a mystery. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of Sherlock Holmes always kept me guessing until the sleuth made the big reveal, and Fahrenheit 451’s bookless dystopia made me appreciate novels all the more. I love gaining knowledge and perspective from memoirs and other nonfiction books.
As Eric Weiner searched for what makes people happy in his book, The Geography of Bliss, I viewed the cultures of 10 countries such as Bhutan, Moldova, and Thailand, cultures I may have never been exposed to otherwise. The Confidence Code showed me how to bridge the confidence gap between men and women.
Mostly, I love seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, whether the narrator is fictional or not. Not only do I learn something from every book I read, but it functions as a form of stress relief. By putting myself in someone else’s shoes, I gain valuable perspective that makes my problems seem so small and allows me to empathize better with others. It is easy for me to say that my independent reading has enriched my life.
I love seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.
But believe it or not, I didn’t always like reading. Back in elementary school, I equated reading with homework in my mind. I remember the class time I spent skimming short books and taking the computer tests to accumulate the AR points that were required each quarter, as many of you remember. I tried to acquire as many points in our DEAR (or “Drop Everything And Read”) times as possible in order to avoid having to “waste” my valuable after school time on reading. In the library, I judged books based on their length, declaring anything over 100 pages “too big." Basically, I didn’t give books a chance.
I wish someone had told me back then how valuable and fun reading truly is. Especially now, when reading and analysis become an even more important part of school, at first glance reading can seem like a boring chore. When you have to read a book for English class, it is often considered homework, not something that you can or should enjoy. You figure, why should I read a book if I already have to read for school? I would answer that my experience of reading for school has enriched the reading I choose to do for pleasure.
From practice in English class, it becomes easier to gain a deeper understanding of the text, and I begin to see the art between the words. I also discover, once I start assigned reading, that I actually enjoy it. Reading for pleasure is only enhanced by not being required to get a certain amount done. I can take my time. Also, some of you simply may not like the kinds of books that you have for homework. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy reading for pleasure. Maybe your genre is science fiction, adventure, romance, or historical fiction. Maybe you would like nonfiction — biographies, self-help books, or true crime books. Maybe you would like the strange but engaging stories of Stephen King. My point is that I believe everyone has a book out there that you would love. Sometimes you just have to explore and look for them.
From others, I have heard “why read the book if you can just watch the movie?” For the record, the book is always better than the movie. Movies leave no room for your imagination, whereas books allow you to picture the characters and settings in your own way, essentially personalizing the story. Books give you a direct access to the thoughts of a character as well, while movies only show the exterior. This is not to say that movies have little value, but books contain a depth that can’t be equaled by a two-hour-long motion picture.
Nothing quite summarizes the immersive experience of a good book like the words of American novelist Louis L’Amour. “For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.” I introduced my love of reading by referencing Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series. I’m not going to tell you if Roland finds the tower, because that would spoil a really enjoyable read. Go read it and find out for yourself, enjoying the journey as you go, just like I did — just watch out for that shapeshifting spider.