Our Reading Lives

Keep Reading, or, a Letter to My Younger Self

Dear 17-Year-Old Me (and anyone who ever needed to hear it, too),

I know you feel a little bit like an outcast and you think the books are to blame. You always carry one with you, mostly in your backpack, to read between classes or during downtime at school. Most of the time, it’s a novel, and you think your classmates can’t understand why you’d rather live in a fictional world than socialize. The looks of confusion on their face catch your attention when you glance up to absorb a particularly thoughtful passage. Sometimes, especially at lunch, they ask with a soft expression of pity if you’d like to sit with them. What they don’t realize is that you are not lonely, you’re just alone.

Except you’re not even that, really, because you’ve got the characters keeping you company and that’s actually how you prefer it. I know it still makes you wonder if there’s something wrong with you. But I want you to know now that there isn’t.

There may be 600 other students in your class, and you may feel like you never see any of them reading and enjoying books the way you do. They’re there, though, just as hidden as you sometimes feel. Some of them are even introverts, like you, in disguise. They appear to be the life of the cafeteria, but go home, just like you, to mountains of books to ascend and conquer. 

What I’m trying to tell you is that it’s true that you’re not necessarily typical, reading books to fill up all the free moments, but you’re also not the only one. You just don’t see it because, well, your eyes are on a book.

book and typewriter

One day, not too long from now, you’ll go out into the world. You will find other people like you. It will be such a strange concept—other people who read the way you do—that you won’t quite believe it. You will struggle to imagine that just next door, there will be a young woman in her bed, a book on her lap, with her head in the clouds imagined by a writer. And not because her professor assigned reading.

Even that assigned reading, however, will be something these like-minded people will enjoy, just as you’ve enjoyed A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the other titles listed on syllabi throughout the years.

And what’s more, one day beyond that, you’ll be celebrated for your love of books and reading. In fact, when you go into your annual review and talk about your love of reader’s advisory and how you keep track of and detail all the books you read and spend your free time pursuing other avenues of the book life, you’ll tell your manager you’ve read about 40 books by the time June hits. And she’ll tell you that you need to read even more. And, well, if your manager is telling you read more, then…you’ll just have to make it happen.

So, sure, right now is tough. Right now, adults in your life ask if you wouldn’t rather go to the mall with friends or hang out at the local beach this summer instead of holing up in the air-conditioned library. There’s nothing wrong with any of those other activities—and you tell them so—but they just aren’t things you want to spend your time doing. And that’s okay. Not many people are telling you that right now, but really: it’s okay.

Some people will tell you that you ought to plan on being a librarian because you read so much. They’ll paint a picture of you with their own words, imagining you at an old wooden desk with ornate details carved into it, your hair atop your head in a tight bun, glasses (which you just got a few months ago) hanging on a chain but perched before your bun, dusty books stacked nearby. They have an outdated idea of what it is to be a librarian (though you do prefer to wear your hair in a bun and often shift the glasses from your eyes for maximum comfort). Their whole suggestion is still rooted in the stigma around an ardent interest in books and reading—it’s still a suggestion rooted in stereotypes. But they won’t be entirely wrong.

The difference is, they won’t imagine the joy you’ll bring to people when you hunt down the old title they couldn’t quite remember from their childhood. They won’t know the glee you bring in suggesting a new book to someone who thought they’d never find another book just like the one they loved, yet here it is.

They aren’t any less-than for it.

But, more importantly, you are not less-than either. So keep reading. Keep reading, because in doing so, you will live so many more lives than you could imagine. Keep reading, because it will make you kind and empathetic. Keep reading, because one day, a kid will need the book you read when you were 11, when you were 15, when you were 22. Keep reading, because there are others out there like you, and you’ll find them and they’ll find you.

But most of all: keep reading because it brings you joy. And the world needs a little more joy.