English teachers are often asked by book-weary students, "Why do we have to read?" or, "Why do we have to read this book? This book is depressing."
We also hear, "Why does everyone die in every book that we read? Can't we read a book with a happy ending?"
These are interesting questions because they open the gate and let us address the fundamental reasons why people write and why we all should read.
We read in order to understand and process the human experience.
Here are two examples (there are millions more):
Reading a novel such as The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini helps us to understand life in Afghanistan, as well as how it feels to live with guilt, and how we may atone for this guilt, for the wrongs that we've done to others.
Reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel helps us to understand the era of the Tudors in medieval England, and when we read this historical novel, we realize that people have always been--at heart--the same. We are and have always been political animals, giving to get, trying to protect ourselves and our families in dangerous times.
It's true that characters usually die in fiction, drama, and real life.
Why is this?
Maybe because we are all going to die. Death is inevitable, the ultimate shared human experience.
Thinking about death is useful because it helps us to think about life. It's yin and yang--we can't have one without the other. If we didn't die, we wouldn't know how to cherish and make the most of our lives, now would we? Similarly, if we didn't know evil, we would never be able to recognize good.
We write about people and death and love and sin and good and evil in order to communicate, to share ideas and experiences.
Writing helps us to find common ground or to persuade others to consider life they way that we do.
For writing to hold our attention, it usually needs a story, an anecdotal experience we can relate to.
Story is essential; stories are the basic framework through which we consider life and the world.
The primary subject of our writing is often our own story (after all, the individual usually finds him or herself to be the most interesting subject; that's just natural, even if, deep down, we know it's not always true). We know, or think we know, ourselves.
Sharing our stories helps us see how the personal is also the universal.
And that's what it's all about: realizing that we are connected, no matter where or when we live, or how we live. We share common human stories.
Life is not perfect; usually, it's pretty hard. But if life weren't hard sometimes, we would not be able to appreciate when it's easy.
Life, while you're in school, is indeed comparatively easy. Enjoy it--even if you have to read that depressing book.