Books so good, you’ll read to the very end.
My favorite teacher I’ve ever had was my 8th grade English teacher. His class was a constant reminder that learning could be fun. He shared unique and creative lessons through songs, movies, and tv episodes. And he chose books which I actually found myself wanting to read.
Before his class, I was the king of Sparknotes. For those without Sparknotes, it is (was?) a website with synopses and character descriptions of practically every book you could ever imagine. I still remember my pre-8th grade reading routine.
I’d get the book, read the back cover, read the first page, the last page, then go straight to Sparknotes. If the first page ever interested me enough to keep going, I would. But that rarely happened.
But in 8th grade, everything changed. I read the first page. And the second. And the third. I’d find myself deep into Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, The Taming of the Shrew, and I actually finished them.
But after 8th grade, reading stopped. The books changed, the teachers changed, and once again, learning just felt dull.
For the next 9 years, through high school, all of my undergraduate, and my master’s degree, I never read a book cover to cover. I never found the fun and enjoyment I discovered in my 8th grade reading class.
That was, until I started these two books.
What it’s about:
Many schools give educators the opportunity to share some parting wisdom with students at the end of the year. These academics often stand in front of a crowd and reveal to eager students’ what life should look like as they enter the real world.
The irony of the last lecture is that it’s not the last time these students will hear words like this at all. It’s actually the first time of many that they’ll hear these words about the real world for years to come.
But what happens when the last lecture really is the last? And what happens if it’s not the last lecture for the student, but rather, for the teacher?
In Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, Pausch, a computer science lecturer at Carnegie Melon, is asked to give a final lecture of his career and life, as he is given a terminal cancer diagnosis. The book is an adaptation of that lecture, with advice from a man taking the podium one final time.
It’s not a lecture about death. Rather, it’s about overcoming obstacles, enabling other’s dreams, living out your own, and seizing every moment, because sometimes we have less time than we think.
It’s warm, it’s wise, it’s witty, and it’s a book you will not want to end.
Why I finished it:
I must admit, the title of this article is a bit misleading. I’d read things since that wonderful 8th grade class. I read articles I was assigned.
I read news headlines. I read sports magazines. I read movie subtitles. I read Sparknotes. I’d even read most of How to Win Friends and Influence People. But I hadn’t read a book front to back until The Last Lecture.
Randy Pausch’s words gave me that same feeling of enjoying learning that I’d had in the 8th grade. Turning each page felt like discovering a new clue in the mystery of life.
This book made me “feel all the feels” a term my mom and I like to use when something makes us laugh and cry, or be happy, angry, sad, confused, or proud, all in the same sitting.
Randy’s stories, combined with the spirit exuded on each page, made me want to see how this book ended; how his last lecture ended; how his life ended.
When a book can bring you to the finish line and inspire you, challenge you, and warm you all at the same time, you know you’ve found something special.
Finishing this book was the least I could do for Randy and his family.
What it’s about:
Mitch Albom is a master of both fiction and non-fiction. His books, like Randy’s, allow readers to contemplate complex life topics like meaning, purpose, love, and death.
In Have A Little Faith, a true story, Albom is tasked with writing his rabbi’s eulogy. Over the next few years, he builds a relationship with him, along with other people in the rabbi’s life, which stretches far beyond the initial assignment.
Albom encounters the many different aspects of faith, while questioning and rebuilding his own at the same time.
This true-life account is poignant, it’s heart-warming, and it’s a tribute to the benevolent work people do in the world of giving.
As Albom explores the various issues presented in his life and the communities around him at the time, we’re able to dive in as readers to much larger societal problems, problems which still run rampant to this day.
The book sparks questions like: how do we keep going when bad things happen to us? What happens after our loved ones die? What happens to us when we die?
Why I finished it:
This book began my admiration (and borderline obsession) with Mitch Albom books. I’ve read them all since then. But, at the time, I’d only read The Five People You Meet in Heaven and Tuesdays with Morrie when I was much younger, and I was excited to get into his other work.
I picked up the book around the same time as The Last Lecture and I was curious about the similar themes.
Viewing life from the lens of death, what kind of legacy we want to leave, and can we still make a difference in others’ lives when the focus is on us?
The book’s tagline is: “it’s one man’s journey. But it’s everyone’s story.” I felt this was relatable. I felt myself questioning my own faith, my own life, the lives of those around me as I read the book.
As the rabbi came to the end of his life, the end of his story, I just had to find out what the eulogy would be.
Much like The Last Lecture, out of respect for this great character Albom described, I owed it to the rabbi to finish reading his story.
The Unifying Element
When considering these two books which ended my 9-year reading drought, I think about why these were the ones to do so.
Why were these the ones which reignited my burning desire to read? Why did these remind me of the beauty and fun learning can provide?
The answer is simple. It’s all about learning through storytelling.
For so long, I was reading things which were more prescriptive, more didactic, more academic, and I lost sight of the art of storytelling. I forgot what it was like to lose myself in the emotion of a truly powerful story.
Stories like these are actually quite abundant. I’ve read hundreds of books in the last 5 years which kept me entertained until the very last line.
These books make you “feel all the feels,” and for me, that makes reading and learning all the more worthwhile.
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