How a few Books changed my life.

Afolabi Murdaugh 

Professor Perry 


29 October 2023

My experience with reading in the academic world 

Happiness rarely comes from reading, at least it didn’t for me. Disliking reading from a young age, I associated it with forced academics, causing me to develop a hatred for reading. Though I no longer hate it, reading without academic motivation may take more time. The problem started with the education system in elementary and middle school, turning reading into a dreaded chore. People should view reading as an enjoyable way to explore creativity, just like watching a favorite movie. However, modern society’s mandatory reading diminishes the curiosity for books. Required reading for grades stifles curiosity, and the limited choice enforced by the education system further solidifies books as school-centric. Only in high school did classroom books begin to captivate my interest.

Although freshman year was brutal with the emergence of COVID-19, before COVID my class was reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck which was about two workers, George and Lennie, and their Struggle in the Great Depression. Even though the setting sounded boring it still sparked something in me because, for the first time, I was genuinely interested in reading a book and started participating more in class discussions even though I felt nerdish for constantly having something to say about every little detail or topic, this made me proud and intrigued by own enjoyment of the book since this had never happened before, but my enjoyment was cut short with the eventual spread of COVID-19. I could feel myself slowly getting depressed over my inability to participate and talk about Of Mice and Men. I always found it interesting how a book affected me so much although the book itself wasn’t anything special the possibility of deriving meaningful conversation and gaining a different perspective from someone else’s life intrigued me. Although I never got to convey how I truly felt about the ending of the book it did however ignite my interest in reading. 

It had been slightly over a year since my last encounter with Of Mice and Men, a book that at the time held the title of the most intriguing and thought-provoking piece of literature I had ever explored but sadly, my sophomore year brought me no satisfaction. Through remote learning, it seemed that nobody was motivated to excel in school, and I was no exception. While we were assigned our yearly reading material, they failed to rekindle the initial spark I had for Of Mice and Men. Remote learning relegated my interest in reading back to the state of my middle school years. I became so desperate to the point where I attempted to read other books, such as the Harry Potter series, which I eventually gave up on, “Fahrenheit 451,” which I also abandoned, and “The Fault in Our Stars,” from which I lost interest after a mere 40 pages. The problem lay in the absence of engagement, and with the additional challenges of juggling school and battling depression, my motivation for reading and extracting meaning from my readings had disappeared. My initial attraction to active class participation and engaging in conversations with others is what truly motivated me to read books. Without that, I was no more than an average student who had initially harbored a strong dislike for reading. It was a major disappointment to realize that I had given up on reading and couldn’t find enjoyment in it. I had tried ardently to find solace in books, but deep down, I suspected that I was never truly a devoted reader; I was just someone who had chanced upon an interesting book.

The education system had significantly molded the way I viewed reading, and my connection with reading had profoundly impacted my intelligence and potential understanding of complex subjects. While the challenging education system did hinder my ability to develop a deeper fascination for books, I remained patiently eager for a new book to read, much like a child waiting in line for an ice cream truck. You can only hope that they still have the flavors you’ve been eagerly anticipating by the time it’s your turn, and in my case, they did. It was my junior year of high school when I had my first resurgence of interest in books, which was Hamlet by William Shakespeare, and even though it was a play it was still a piece of literature that made me rethink my life’s purpose. The story of Hamlet, in itself, wasn’t overly complex, but it was the first story that genuinely piqued my interest during my two years in high school at the time. The excitement that surged through my body every day during my last period was unmatched. Discovering new ways to connect with the characters’ actions and uncover deeper meanings was genuinely an amazing experience. What I valued the most about this book was Hamlet’s Soliloquy, the classic “to be or not be” inner monologue, Hamlet was telling us the readers that the only reason we don’t all commit suicide is because of the underlying fear of the unknown afterward. As Grim as it sounds that soliloquy by Hamlet completely broke my understanding of things moving forward, it made me see how short and eventually meaningless my life is but although that sounds depressing it was a relief for me to see those words finally realize and know their true meaning as it finally gave me a deeper understanding of my life and the choices I make. Even though my life is short and massively irrelevant in the grand scheme of things I was able to take Hamlet’s words to gain motivation from them. Knowing that my life is relevant in the grand scheme of things suddenly made my 16-year-old brain realize how much more potential I have to be my true self without letting the limitations of the world hold me down. Hamlet’s soliloquy also made me realize that no matter how many times I may trip or fall the mistakes I make are what make me human. Looking back on it now, it’s somewhat amusing how long it took me to realize this, but it’s the reason I cherish reading so much. 

Following my remarkable experience with Hamlet, I eventually began my senior year of high school. Initially, my senior year seemed daunting due to an accidental enrollment in a first-year writing class, unlike the English twelve course my friends were taking. I recall dreading my first-year writing class for the first month, filled with regret over taking what was purported to be a challenging course. Little did I know that this class would profoundly alter my perspective on the world. During the beginning of the school year, we delved into Henry David Thoreau’s Walden which was about Thoreau’s and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance. The short excerpts of Self-reliance we read made me realize how much we choose to conform to society’s standards and how much we owe it to ourselves to live by our own deepest ideas and instincts. Walden was much more difficult than I initially thought as it made me question the meaning of life through Thoreau’s desire to live deliberately without the conformist restraints of society. These remarkable literary works that we explored genuinely transformed my conformist outlook, and my initial nervousness about missing out on what my friends were experiencing in English twelve gradually diminished. I slowly stopped caring about what non-relevant people thought about me so whenever I felt anxious or worried about what people would think about me the words of Emerson and Thoreau would always seep back into my mind. It almost felt ridiculous to derive momentary motivation from some dead old guys I read about in class. Then I’d remember how I felt before with Hamlet’s Soliloquy and it all made sense, to truly have something change my life and my way of thinking was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and to encounter this through books which I had hated for a majority of my life was truly an eye opener for me. However, there was still one more special book that changed my perspective on the world which was The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger. What made The Catcher in the Rye a special book to me was how different it was from the other books I read. Compared to the others throughout my academic life The Catcher in the Rye was the first book in which I could see myself in the shoes of the main character Holden Caulfield. Through the eyes of Holden, I was able to understand how hard yet simple life can be through his constant overthinking of certain situations and his inability to let go of the past. Holden’s overthinking made me realize how much I had bullied myself for so long for just making minor mistakes. I slowly started to see similarities between me and Holden in how he would obsess over the past and his constant need to bottle up his emotions, but what made me resonate with Holden was his question “Where do the ducks go?”. This question alone defined the entire book as it showed how Holden questioned where the ducks go when winter comes, but what this quote meant was what happens to the people we care about when they leave us. When I first realized the true meaning of this quote it hit me like a truck as I had never tried to imagine my life without the people I cared about. This quote made me realize how much time I could be spending surrounding myself with lovable and caring people instead of pursuing people just for the sake of entertainment or loneliness. Since it’s so easy to always assume that our loved ones will be alive with us tomorrow, the idea of that not happening someday truly made me begin to appreciate the time I spend with people. Understanding Holden as a person and his simply worded yet thought-provoking questions truly improved my understanding of myself and the people around me. Reading this book felt like reading pages that were plucked straight out of my life which is why throughout my academic life I can proudly say that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the life-altering words of J.D Salinger. 

In conclusion, throughout my academic journey although I’ve read a few uninspiring books there were some books throughout my journey that shaped my thinking and broadened my understanding of the world and myself. Books should be something that people can use to deepen their understanding of a certain topic or themselves and not just chores presented to us. Although reading won’t always be exciting and captivity, as long as there’s a chance of gaining a deeper understanding of myself then reading won’t be as much of a chore as my middle school self would think.