In my first commencement speech four years ago, I made a reference to the HBO blockbuster, Game of Thrones. I think most people got the joke and maybe it was an overreach to think that GoT was so ingrained in our shared pop lexicon that people would understand the allusion. But four years later, I am much more confident that it is. The show dominates headlines, water-cooler talk, and ratings. So even if you aren’t watching the show, you at least know of it.
My wife had previously been one of those people—she had a very vague understanding of what it was but did not watch it. All that changed in October when I made another attempt at getting her to watch it with me. I was already caught up with the series, so it would mean re-watching the entire series from the beginning with her. That might sound tedious, but if you watch the show, you certainly understand how enticing that would be—to be able to see patterns and trends and hints that you would have missed on the first viewing. Or the anticipation and thrill to share in the horror, shock, and excitement of experiencing momentous scenes such as the beheading of Ned Stark or the Red Wedding. There was so much to look forward to!
And so we have binge-watched our way up to the season 7 finale (which if you only know about the show, this is significant because it means my wife is now 80 minutes away from where I was in the summer: a year and a half out from new episodes). So needless to say, my wife loves the show. She too appreciates the twists and turns, the cinematography and direction, the writing. And of course the characters. If anything, this show is all about its characters. It is clearer now who the heroes are (at least I think) but even the villains are likable (well, maybe Cersei has lost all sympathy now). And I think we are suckers for characters seeking redemption, such as Tyrion Lannister (again, I think). In fact, he is probably our favorite character; he is such a likeable character. And how do you not root for an underdog? Moreover, Peter Dinklage is such a talented actor, chewing up every scene he is in and delivering every line as if it were penned by the Bard himself. In fact, one Tyrion’s lines is a favorite of mine: “…a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” Game of Thrones contains many truths and insights into human nature and our condition, but this line in particular is very fitting right now for a couple of reasons.
Ever since John Champe opened, we have placed an emphasis on reading. Whether it’s our African-American read-ins, the Honor Library in the main hallway, signs outside our doors advertising what we are reading, hosting a one-community book event, or focusing on literacy strategies with the faculty, we’ve made it clear that we promote reading and we value books. In fact, we should all be doing even more of it. Tyrion is right: it is good for our minds, it keeps us sharp. I would even argue that it is good for our souls as well. And you don’t have to interpret that in a religious sense: it is good for our nature and for our understanding of ourselves and each other.
And so if you are struggling with what to get someone for the holidays or a birthday, I would like to humbly suggest a book. Even an e-book would suffice (but maybe the value of an actual paperback over an e-book will be a topic for another time). Just get your family member reading (news articles don’t count—sorry)! Whether it is your spouse, your teenager, or your toddler, give them the gift of a book. And now is a great time to find books: they are on sale just like other gift ideas are this time of year. Plus, as we near the end of the year, newspapers and other forums are publishing their best-of lists so you can make a well-informed decision if you aren’t sure what to get.
And while you’re at it, pick one up for yourself too. It’s fun to relax with a book over the break. Plus, winter is coming.