How one book changed my life
How one book changed my life
I had a childhood that regularly involved me sitting down and losing myself in a book. But when I think of my formative reading experience, it’s not the first book I ever read or an imaginary world I escaped to. It’s actually a lot duller than that and is technically a play rather than a book, but hear me out.
In my second year of A-Level, we studied Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. It’s a play written in the ‘90s that deals with the ideas of past and present alongside order and disorder. If I’d heard the plot prior to reading it, or encountered it outside of a school setting, I’d have probably given it a miss. The words determinism, Fermat’s last theorem, entropy, and free will seem to dominate all the summaries and reviews. On first glance, this book is not my cup of tea.
A few weeks into studying it though, Arcadia was able to show me a side to reading I’d not experienced before. And not to be dramatic or anything, but it went on to shape quite significant parts of my life.
The rewards of reading
For my seventeen-year-old self, this play was hard work. I’m not scientifically minded and it talks about a lot of concepts I struggled to get my head around. But for the first time, I felt like I was earning my enjoyment of a book. I was having to work hard to understand what was going on and my mind was really being tested.
It was the first time I’d experienced a truly rewarding reading experience. It wasn’t just a nice storyline with a happy ending. It was complicated and so much more than surface-level reading. I looked forward to discussing it and finding perspectives I hadn’t been able to notice by myself.
It stopped being a book I had to read for exams and I found myself annotating the pages because I longed to understand it more. I wanted to finish the book content in the fact I’d ‘solved’ it. The difficulty I experienced in understanding it made it even more satisfying to read.
Also, if you’re anything like me and appreciate good, powerful quotes that would fit in on those quirky peg boards people have, this play is full of them.
A light bulb moment
Before this, I was wrestling with the decision of studying either art or psychology at university. English was something I’d always been good at but I didn’t want to just read books for three years, right?
Reading and studying this book was one of the main reasons I went on to choose an English literature degree. I wanted to go through this same process again and again. I wanted to read things that tested me and gave me satisfaction upon finishing them. I wanted to struggle with concepts I’d never encountered before and test my understanding and appreciation of culture.
Fast forward to now and I’ve completed two degrees in English literature and am a full-time content writer. I can’t know for sure, but I’d assume things would’ve been quite different if I hadn’t experienced Arcadia as and when I did. I still have the annotated copy sat on my shelf, and, interestingly enough, I’ve not read it since. Perhaps I don’t want to taint the memories I have of it.
Significant amounts of my personal growth can be attributed to the experiences I’ve had with reading. I can’t imagine having never had the satisfaction of finishing a book, or who I’d be today without having them to broaden my mind. We don’t realise how many people don’t have this luxury, and as a society, it’s something we should focus on.
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