Libraries are anything but silent. They are usually quiet, a kind of quiet that’s enforced by swift hushing from the direction of the front desk whenever someone talks too loud, but they are not silent. There’s the sound of pages flipping — slowly and decisively from the old man tucked in the armchair, rapid and careless from the kid sprawled in the corner — and the sound of keys clicking softly, of footsteps muffled against old carpet, and I swear that behind everything there is something like the quiet humming of books.
I live near a library, close enough, in fact, that I can walk to it, a path that marches down quiet streets and winds past baseball fields and through trees. I can recite every turn you must make, and I know every inch of the cracked concrete and springy tufts of grass by heart, but I don’t actually remember walking it as a child. Maybe the walk paled in comparison to the destination.
I grew up reading, and honestly, I think a lot of other kids did too. Maybe not walking to the library every week, and maybe not in the sense of excitement stirred by a stack of bright covers and curling pages, but I think the relentless school librarians ensured that everyone tried reading. I feel like now, people don’t read unless they’re forced to.
That’s weird to me. I wouldn’t say that books are my escape, because their bright fragments of plot often seem as vivid and tangible to me as reality, but they are my refuge and my entertainment, and they have been since I was old enough to walk the path to the library. I can mark my life through the names of people I have never met: J. K. Rowling and Rick Riordan, to Robin McKinley and Mary Stewart and Edith Wharton. When I think of my childhood, I think of sitting in a deep blue armchair with a book and smoky pieces of stories dissipating around me as the hours drop away.
What really threw me for a loop was the discovery that not everyone loves to read. I get that reading is not everyone’s favorite way to spend a Friday night, but I have friends who haven’t picked up a book (except for school) in years. This is nearly incomprehensible to me. I feel like reading is the purest and easiest way to educate yourself — simply reading a vast array of books has expanded my vocabulary more than any English class, and it’s taught me about history, the natural world, and above all, human nature. There is no straining to gather up various bits of knowledge; it’s an effortless way to learn.
I remember in middle school, my English class would go to the library for a period every week or so. Those were my favorite days. I would take full advantage of wandering the bookshelves, haunting the shelves with familiar authors and favorite stories. And other people read, too; looking back, I can’t picture anyone just sitting on their phone.
I want to petition to bring those days back. I truly believe that people should read with excitement, with vigor, with interest — and above all, that they should read more. I know that not everyone views reading the same way, but spending an hour engrossed in a good book is so much more rewarding than browsing youtube.
In the spring of 2018, I started volunteering at the Emmaus Public Library, the library that I spent so many days in my childhood walking to. I still get the same feeling every time I step through the doors — the hushed presence of books, that quiet awe. I love stumbling on people crouched in the ends and corners of bookshelves, because I can see my passion for reading reflected in their unbroken attention to the pages in front of them. They are oblivious to the world around them, young children and grey-haired people alike. Reading has built itself to be such a component of my personality, such an integral piece of me, that I can’t imagine my life without it. I can’t imagine not getting lost in dazzling, winding stories. I can’t imagine not hearing the quiet rustle of pages and creak of reluctant bindings. And I can’t imagine not walking the familiar, tree-studded path to my library.