On Shakespeare and Stoppard, on Reading and Recommending

Reading combines pleasure and utility, and does so elegantly. Whether curled up in a book or poring over a tome, thoughtful reading affords an extraordinary opportunity to engage while disengaging, to travel while staying still, and to connect while remaining alone. The gift of a book and the power of a thoughtful recommendation is much more than an idle transaction. It is an invitation to share and to take part in this sublime pleasure. A well-considered read is a powerful gift.

I love to read – and at this point in my life, I would like my reading to be much more than emails. I consider the time and opportunity to re-read, to re-think and reconsider – and the good that it would afford. However, the thrill of the new, or the missed, regularly pulls me towards the stack of unopened books. And with so much that will never be read, how can one choose?

My recommendation is to ask for recommendations. Ask your academic colleagues, ask for friends, ask your frenemies, ask your students. Be bold about it, too. What have you read lately? What do you think that I would like? What are your favorites?  You’ll be amazed and what you have not read and what unexplored works are out there.

Recently I read a classic from the 1960s, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. Recommended by a Shakespeare scholar and friend – you’ve never read it? – it brought me back to the excitement of undergraduate courses in English. Yes, excitement: the joy of the written word, the spoken word, and the threads of language and ideas in literature. It was a humbling and joyful experience, in less than 130 pages. And darkly funny, too.

Above and beyond my thoughts of the play, the recommendation and gift reaffirmed the values of academia and my happiness at being a member of the broader academic community. We are a community of readers and recommenders of texts. A college, after all, is simply a place where a large number of strangers, acquaintances, colleagues and friends share and swap things to read. When we teach, we ask students to read certain things – and students, in turn, write certain things and ask us faculty to read them. Review this, please, and then please share. We share readings all the time. It is what we do.

And in that spirit, thank you for reading this and I welcome your recommendations. And if you are in the mood for a darkly funny existentialist play, give Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead a try. I think that you might enjoy it.

David Potash

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