Palimpsest (September 18 – 24, 2022)

Things I read, heard and saw this week that inspired me.

“Best of: A Life-Changing Philosophy of Games.” The Ezra Klein Show. [podcast] 2022aug19.

A view of our quantified lives as point scoring games where the points shape our values and tell us what to want. This one touches a lot on the point scoring nature of social media and why Twitter's gamification of conversation warps our political and social discourse.

“Elaine Castillo : How to Read Now.” Between The Covers : Conversations with Writers in Fiction, Nonfiction & Poetry. [podcast] 2022sep18.

This is a huge conversation spanning almost three hours about reading, what reading is and how reading is always placed inside political space. This long episode has so many threads and so many insights packed in, it is like a microdose of many, many episodes in one. Always a pleasure to listen to brilliant readers talk about reading. This one is a pleasure and a challenge.

“The Office is Dying. It’s Time to Rethink How We Work.” The Ezra Klein Show. [podcast] 2022aug16.

Pandemic lockdown of 2020 gave us an unplanned experiment in new ways of working. The pressure cooker of necessity caused a hugely innovative period of adjustment and recalibration. As things settle toward the new normal, workers are left wanting to retain some of the benefits of flexible work from the online/hybrid experiment. Unfortunately, most work places learned the wrong lessons. Workers wanted the best of flexible work but are mostly now getting the worst. Rethinking how we work requires us to rethink why we work, starting with the office as a space. What is it actually for? This conversation touches on the trends of social atomization. What does it mean when work is the last place left for people to relate directly as human communities? There has to be a better way. Right?

What I’m Reading

  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. My wife is worried because now I want to make cheese in our kitchen.

What I’m Watching

  • The Sandman. We finished Season 1 this week. It was interesting to see how they reorganized the pieces of the original story to build toward narrative arc for Season 2. The last episode is basically bonus material that didn’t sit well inside the storyline for Season 1. As much as I enjoyed the build of the second half of the season, I enjoyed this last episode as an example of what the show might have been if told more as pastiche, which was my experience of the graphic novel.
  • The Patient. A psychologist is captured by his patient and locked in the basement for ongoing personal therapy sessions. I won’t say more because the pleasure of this show is letting each short (20ish minutes) episode deliver a quick gut punch. This series works in the way the best horror/thriller short story works. Keep it tight, compressed and deliver the gut punch right at the end. Also fun to see Steve Carrell play a serious role. It took me a while to get myself out of Office mode, looking for that Michael Scott smirk. Carrell grows into the role as the episodes progress.

Other Narrative Forms

I haven’t read any books yet this year. Don’t worry. I am okay. I haven’t torched my To Be Read piles. I have been reading other forms of narrative. I didn’t mean to set about on the experiment but now that I find myself a month into it, I find myself interested.

Sometime late 2020, I switched my digital subscriptions for both The Atlantic and Wired over to print. They now arrive in the mail which I find tremendously exciting. I adore the writing, ideas and design of both publications but realized that something important was missing from the experience of reading them on the iPad. I enjoyed the magical convenience of reading on the iPad, but finally conceded reading that way had become a sterile experience, a sacrifice of the senses in exchange for digital gluttony. Reading magazines on screen, I gorged myself on the lines of words, all laid out in digital rows of neatly flowable text, but never really tasting any of it. When I introduced the habit of commonplacing, the situation was made worse by the need to copy and paste passages from one digital document into another. Now, I am reading gorgeous, interesting, varied essays with both page and pen in hand. I directly mark the text to flag passages for rescue into my commonplace keeper and when I am done I type out the passages or notes and then recycle the magazine. I bend, fold and flag the pages and when I am done I drop the issue into recycle, an act of grateful finality akin to wiping one’s face with a nice cloth napkin.

My reading of print magazines brought something important back into my reading life. Also, print magazines do not hide. They make themselves seen. They are a house guest that insist on hospitality. They do not disappear when the iPad light goes off. They demand active reading or active ignoring. Like bratty, delightful children.

And so, late last year I found myself splitting time between the reading of books and the reading of magazine articles. In December, I discovered my local public library offers a digital reading app called Hoopla. Having just extolled the pleasures of reading my magazines in print, you may wonder why a new digital reading app would pull me off the bookly path. Hoopla is a platform offering together eBooks, eAudiobooks, and also graphic novels.

I started listening to audiobooks. At first, it was Esther Perel soon followed by similar authors who write on topics of deep interest but for which I do not necessarily want to be seen carrying around the titles in hard cover. Also, audiobooks fit into my ears which mean they fit into the uncrowded spaces of my life — while driving, walking, working out. Listening to books is a different way of engagement. With the right narrator (Esther Perel reads her own) listening is its own kind of bookish intimacy. And so down the audiobook rabbit hole, I go.

But the main draw of Hoopla for me is the availability of graphic novels. Many thousands of them, entire series, lushly illustrated and easy to carry and read on iPad. Being a nerd with mostly nerd friends, you might have assumed I have been reading graphic novels since I was a kid. Not so. I could never allow myself to explore them because of the cost. Comics and graphic novels are expensive. When you fall into love with a series, you are trapped. There is no escaping. When this happens as a kid, you just accept that all your discretionary income belongs to Marvel and DC and Vertigo and Dark Horse. When you are an adult, giving them your money means you might not eat or wear clothes. You are likely to get wet when it rains.

With the discovery of Hoopla, I have become a 47 year old catching up on a lifetime of missed stories. There is no end to the paths I may wander.

And so, last week I realized what’s actually happening for me isn’t really about print versus digital. It is about variety of narrative form. There are many ways to tell a story. Book length stories are only one.

This isn’t about attention span. I still adore book length stories but I wonder how that mode of reading became my sole focus. As I try to make my way back into the habits of writing, I find myself unclear how to write a short story. This is likely because I read so few short stories.

Thus, the realization that the ability to write widely comes from the experience of reading widely. And so, I find myself curious about the many forms narrative takes and how each allows something different from the other forms. I find myself curious to know if my stuckness has been an actual stuckness of ideas or if, instead, it has been self-imposed limits on what I assume to be the shape of narrative.

I have decided to lean into this experience a bit, make an experiment of it. Not necessarily stopping to read the book length stories. That thought makes me sad. But to mix in a heavy amount of articles, essays, audio, graphic novel and short story. Let it all mix in a pastiche. See where it takes me.

Photo by Erik Mclean on


I set aside my writing because I could no longer understand the world and, thus, could no longer properly hope to describe it.

I left social media because it was making that swelling sense of tumult and incoherence even worse.

I even left reading for a time because it felt hollow and unconnected to things that were happening in my life. I realized, after a while, that I was no longer reading well. Words and ideas were blowing through me, and I was making no effort to catch or keep them. I was losing them and allowing them to be lost.

And so, I turned my attention to learning to read differently. To capture what I read. To annotate, denote. I am creating a practice of commonplacing, a habit I am still trying to cultivate and deepen. Commonplacing helps me hold those fleeting moments of insight called inspiration. Commonplacing helps me connect ideas together and find ways to allow my own thoughts to intersect and interact. Commonplacing is reintroducing myself to my own mind, which has grown weirder and more mysterious with time, to be sure.

I am getting weirder, but I no longer feel as frightened by my inability to catch ideas, to find relationships among thoughts, which is to say I no longer feel as overwhelmed, no longer as convinced I have nothing of particular use to say.

The words no longer simply blow straight through me.

I feel myself become weird and getting weirder.

For a time, I thought this must be middle life.

I am going to allow it keep happening. This is maturity.

I am telling you this because I want you to know.

I am writing.

A Reader’s Communion

Being a librarian, I often enjoy deeply delightful conversations about the love of books as objects. Places with books are places of power. Thoughtful people often try to describe the joy they feel at simply standing in a library or bookstore, surrounded on all sides by so many books. They can sense the psychic thrum of books waiting to be read, which is to say they feel a keen awareness of their own curiosity and native weirdness.

I often remind people that a library’s books are meant for borrowing. They can find them, use them, take them home at no cost. It may surprise you the number of people who recoil in a kind of horror at the thought. Oh no. I couldn’t. I prefer to own my own books.

I get it. Books are precious. Brand new, first-owner books are a powerful fetish. Used books found in a used book shop are like mysterious treasure bottles washed randomly, wonderfully on your personal shore. Ebooks ward against the boredom of grocery store lines. Audiobooks fold the time-space continuum, transmuting the experience of a 35 minute commute into a momentary jaunt, a kind of teleportation.

Recently, I had opportunity to read a borrowed book from the library. This, for me, is no uncommon thing. This particular borrowed book, however, happened to have one of the old stamped date due pockets in back. The book itself was first checked out to someone three months after I was born.

Understanding that this book and I were roughly contemporaries, I became curious to know about its life. Not the title but this very book, specific.Stamped date due pocket for borrowed library book

The pocket was a parade of dates: 5/31/1974; 9/4/1975; 6/3/1976; 2/4/1977; 5/23/1980; 8/6/1981; 8/20/1981; 5/10/1982; 5/22/1982; 6/4/1982; 8/12/1982; 5/26/1983; 1/29/1985; 10/19/1989; 7/20/1992; 2/1/2002.

What hands had held this very book while I was still learning to focus my eyes and grasp objects? What secret places — living rooms, bed rooms and apartment balconies — had this book seen? Where had this book gone and been?

I wondered about the reader who read this book a few months before Star Wars lit across its first screen. Did they know how much movies would come to embody our mythology? Did they care?

A sequence of three dates in May – June of 1982 where, perhaps a slow reader wandered casually through the pages, not finishing, stopping by to beg renewal for another few weeks at a time. Or maybe this was a time in their life interrupted by catastrophe and distraction. The illness of a loved one. An illness of their own.

Or, instead, during those same six weeks, a bevy of readers waiting impatiently to have their turn at that month’s hard-to-find book discussion group selection. There was no Amazon. People waited for things.

There is the mystery of the book’s resurgent popularity between 1980 and 1983 and then three year rest between 1989 and 1992, which was a mere nap compared with the long hibernation between 7/20/1992 and 2/1/2002.

And how did it feel for this book to be lifted from the shelve on February 1, 2002? I imagine it would have seemed a kind of liberation, as if waking anew to one’s purpose after a long, dusty dream.

And, finally, the mystery of whatever checkouts we cannot see beyond 2002, an event horizon in reverse, an interregnum between present and past that we cannot imagine because the library no longer stamps date due slips.

As I am reading, all of this serves to remind that books are all infused with holy and mystical purpose, but borrowed library books, perhaps more than all others, connect us to the unseen community of other eyes, hands and minds. A date stamped library book is a talisman of time travel, connecting us in communion with the readers who came before and the readers who will come after.

This is not a thing I can easily tell people in a casual conversation standing in a hallway. So I am telling you, so you can understand and, perhaps, yourself reach for a dusty date-stamped book to borrow.

Speed Reading: A (Hoped For) Superpower

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

Whenever people ask me this question, I usually run down the traditional pros and cons of invisibility versus flying versus mind reading but the honest, actual truth is I’d choose speed reading. I would rather read three times faster than I do now (with complete recall and undiminished joy) than prowl forbidden hallways unseen beneath a Cloak of Invisibility or leap tall buildings in a single bound or peer inside the unguarded mind of friends and foes.

With the talent of speed reading, I could plow through my personal bookshelves and liberate the unread volumes from their years of dusty confinement. I could traverse my library’s bookshelves, first reading everything that interested me from the new book shelves before systematically attacking the circulating stacks in Library of Congress Classification order. First: philosophy, psychology and religion. Then: World and American History. Then: Geography and Anthropology. Next: Political science, law, education, music, fine art, language and literature, science, medicine and technology. I would weave from topic to topic, bouncing from print text to eBook and back again, setting each discipline atop the other like a foundation of well-hewn bricks. When I had digested the entire collection, I would end my journey in the Zs, which is where Library of Congress places Bibliography, or Books about Books. And I would take extravagant notes until my Goodreads account was bursting with To Read titles. And my college would have to hire two additional interlibrary loan clerks to manage the volume of my requests.

The PDF app on my iPad would rejoice whenever I pushed an article there because, at last, articles saved for eventual reading would be read. And my Pocket app for mobile would be a well-oiled machine — articles in, articles read.

It would be a joy.

And so, try to imagine the scene when I came home from work today and my wife said, “Do you want to sign up for this summer speed reading class? They meet for two hours every Monday evening in June. Its kind of expensive, but we can figure it out if you want to give it a try.”


When the call center guy at registration asked about my goals for the program, I told him I read about 20 books each year but want to read more. My dad’s dad took a speed reading class many years ago and eventually came to read a book a day. I know because my grandfather let me scavenge his basement mounds of mass-market paperbacks. That’s where I found out about Clive Barker and Dean Koontz and Robert R. McCammon.

And so, I signed up for summer speed reading classes with the University of Tennessee non-credit program. I gave the call center guy at registration my credit card number and fully expect to gain an incredible superpower in return. I always look forward to summer but this summer is going to be extra nerdtastic. You can have your fantasies about invisibility or flying or mind-reading. I will be gaining an actual super power. I’ll be learning how to read. By August I expect to be making my way through the Top 100 Lists of the Top 100 Books About x.

And yes. You’ll be most welcome to peruse my basement.

You Can Stop Reading That Book, or A Farewell to A Farewell to Arms

Life is short. Don’t read books you hate unless someone is making you, like your teacher or your students or a weird criminal who breaks in to houses and makes people read things they don’t want to read at gun point.

People who make themselves read bad books are psychologically disordered. They are wastrels. People who spend time unnecessarily reading books they don’t enjoy have unrealistic expectations of their own longevity. They have delusions of immortality.

I was once a psychologically disordered wastrel myself. I used to compulsively finish reading everything I started. Once the marker was placed, I could not remove it until the last chapter was turned. Sometimes I loathed the book but read on anyway with the kind of self-flagellation that leads to anxiety and disappointment.

And then, one day, I realized I am going to die someday. I gave myself permission to stop reading things I don’t enjoy. Now, when I find myself reading a book I don’t enjoy, I read just long enough to understand why I am not enjoying it. Fifty pages is enough. If an author cannot manage to somehow interest me in 50 pages, they aren’t really trying.

Most recently, I decided to dust off my Hemingway. I made 32 pages into A Farewell to Arms. The novel promises a “frank portrayal of the love” between somebody and somebody else which “glows with an intensity unrivaled in modern literature.” Hemingway’s description of the German attack on Caporetto is “one of the greatest moments in literary history.” Umm. Okay. 32 pages. There are mountains, and it is snowing. There’s a war but you can’t see the war because they keep taking vacations. And, during vacation, the character I don’t care about tries to date rape the other character I don’t care about. She tells him to stop. Then, she tells him not to stop. I don’t know if he stopped. I pulled the bookmark.

Of course, sometimes not enjoying the book is the whole point. You might find yourself enjoying the experience of not enjoying a book. Like the summer in high school my friend Brian and I made a bet to see who could read L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth the fastest. That was the summer before our senior year in high school. I didn’t have a lot going on, I guess. I lost the bet. Cooler kids than we chugged cheap beers that summer. We chugged bad science fiction. It still makes me sad.

It may be hard to give yourself permission to not read a book. You may feel guilty. Do it anyway. Pull the bookmark. The feeling passes. Life is short and there are 45 shelf feet of not yet read books waiting in my basement.

My No-Longer-Secret Shame

I need to tell you a shocking secret, but you must promise not to tell anyone. If you tell even one other person, it will ruin my professional reputation and call my credentials as a friend of culture and the written word into question.

Okay. Here goes.

I, Robert Benson, have never read Of Mice and Men.miceandmen

Shocking, right? I’m a college library director, and I’ve never even once read this short, accessible literary classic. My team at work found me out this week and are now questioning their life choices. How can they work on a library team led by someone who has never taken the time to experience a 100 page staple of American literature read by millions of American middle school students every single year? I have no answers.

It gets worse.

I also have never read Pride and Prejudice; The Diary of Anne Frank; Little Women; Wuthering Heights; The Picture of Dorian Gray; or The Old Man and the Sea.

I once started Moby Dick but thought it was boring and stopped.

Hard Times is the only Charles Dickens novel I have ever read.

I’ve never watched Gone with the Wind, Casablanca or Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

I don’t particularly enjoy Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday recordings. I desperately love the music but the sound quality of those early recordings hurts my ears.

Too much? I know it’s painful, but there’s more you need to know.

Most rhyming poetry is willfully opaque and boring. Unless its not.

Emily Dickinson seems pretty sexy to me, but I can’t explain why.

I definitely enjoy William Blake’s poems best as decoration for his engravings.

I don’t get the big deal about Robert Frost.

When I read Shakespeare, I don’t feel like I completely understand what’s happening or even what the characters are saying until I can see it happening on the screen or stage.

You still with me? Are we still friends?

I’m sorry you had to find out this way. I know this is a lot to process.

In my defense, there’s a lot of culture to take in, and we keep making more of it.

I am 43 years old and have been actively reading a book every day of my life since I was five. My Goodreads profile says I have read 462 books, but that’s just since I started keeping track in 2008.

I have read a lot of great stuff, both classic and contemporary, but there’s so much greatness I cannot take it all in.

My “To Watch” list is a hot mess. I hope to live long enough to see Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and 200+ other classic films that will make my life richer but one of my best friends loaned me the first three seasons of Game of Thrones on DVD over two years ago, and I still haven’t returned them. Sorry, not sorry.

There are 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. Movies last about 2 hours. You do the math. There’s a mathematical limit. I sleep, eat and work. I have a family. We do stuff together.

At this moment right now, I am listening to Yo-Yo Ma’s rendition of “Sarabande” from The Cello Suites Inspired by Bach. This gorgeous 6 minute and 36 second track is just one of 8706 songs in my iTunes library rated 4 stars or higher. It would take 25.6 days of continuous listening to hear all of those songs I love play just one time. I’m trying. I have a version of my playlist sorted by date last played and another which extracts only those songs I haven’t played in the past year. There are 621 songs on that list which would take 48 continuous hours to hear. I still buy music.

But I digress. I was telling you about how I haven’t read Of Mice and Men. Yet.

You and I live in a miraculous time amidst the staggering abundance of cultural riches. At any given moment, we can access visual, aural and written art created across most of recorded human history. It is, in fact, the absolute greatest time to be a person.

But our time is also one of scarcity. We have precisely as many hours in our day as Monet and Newton and Voltaire, yet we feel ourselves constantly time-starved. We pack our own lives with activity and distraction. We often feel the lack of time as if it is a thing that is being stolen from us, as if we are being robbed.

I am going to read Of Mice and Men and also Charles Dickens. Soon.

I am also going to keep watching movies and listening to music. I am going to read poetry and see brilliant (and not-so brilliant) productions of Shakespeare. I am going to keep writing things and and playing piano.

There is no end to it, no bottom to the list. I can’t take it all in. No one can. But we never stop trying because art is sustenance. Art feeds life. The books and poems and movies and songs and paintings and plays are not culture. What we do them is culture.

Abundance and scarcity. The absolute greatest time of all.


Harry Potter and the 20 Year Spoiler Dodge

I finally read the Harry Potter series. This is ten years after most of my friends finished the series and twenty years after publication of the first book in the UK. As a librarian, not having read Harry Potter made me a kind of professional curiosity, a thing to be questioned and not entirely trusted. My lack of Hogwarts knowledge was a dark demerit on my professional credentials.

I gave the first two books a try 15 years ago, when everyone else in the world was reading about The  Boy Who Lived and You Know Who. I was unimpressed and set the series down after the first two books. Everybody I knew was reading and loving the books and yet, somehow, I believed I was not the target demographic. That was just me being hipster.

For twenty years, I managed to weave artfully through countless conversations with zealous Rowling apostles urging me to give the series just one more try. As if disliking these particular books was simply not possible. In these conversations, I listened patiently, acknowledged that, yes, something must be very wrong with me and moved on without gleaning too much about the actual plot or characters.

During this time, I also managed to see only the first movie adaptation which I actually enjoyed but never followed through to see the others.

This year, I decided to give it another go. My ten year old daughter doesn’t choose reading for fun. I hoped to inspire her by reading the series in parallel so we could get through it together and talk about it along the way. Her ten year old friends were all reading it too so I was sure this would work.

It didn’t. I ended up reading the series on my own.

And here’s the thing. I loved them. I now know what the rest of the world has known for years. The first books are charming but unchallenging. The series grows in complexity and quality with each book. The final three — Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows — are among the best books I have ever read.

The series is astonishingly well-plotted. Minor details and characters from previous books emerge to become major plot points and characters in subsequent books. Everything has a place. Nothing is wasted. Important characters die. Main characters do stupid things. Villains gain depth. And the world of adults becomes increasingly complex as the children grow to understand more of how the world actually works.

I get it now. I admit I was wrong. The books are both magic-filled and magical. How much better to have been reading them with everyone else, so I could anguish along side my friends for the next book to land. And I missed out on a great opportunity to share the experience with my daughter.

And yet, despite the missed opportunities, I feel proud that while living in the Golden Age of Spoilers, I managed to read through the arc of Harry’s adventures unspoiled. I can’t quite explain how I managed it. It feels like a kind of magic requiring both the Cloak of Invisibility and the Marauder’s Map. I am the Boy Who Read Unspoiled. Robert Benson and the 20 year spoiler dodge.

A Reader’s House

My wife and I bought a new house in July. We had a perfectly nice, though somewhat shrinking, home where we had lived for 14 years. We were doing some long overdue updates and repairs on our house while looking around at other houses with one eye. We had a list of “perfect home” requirements and figured it would take several years to find the right place. It took three weeks.

And so, in the time that this blog has been quiet, we have been updating, repairing, packing, moving, unpacking, arranging, rearranging, hanging and generally settling in. We have found a very comfortable, happy space for two adults, a 7 year old, five dogs and all their accompanying stuff.

We moved from our somewhat shrinking house to this house because it met the criteria of our ideal home list: large deck high off the ground with no ground access; big, flat backyard; large fenced area for dogs; lots of sunlight; big open kitchen with island; guest bedroom plus playroom plus office; living room with no television; more than one bathroom; walk-in shower; Chronicles of Narnia-sized closets; and garage all situated on a dead end lane. We found it quick, made a deal and moved. It happened fast.

And that now that we are more or less situated, I have a confession. This may or may not surprise my wife. I think it will not.

All of the things on this list are terrific. I like them all very much. I bought this house because it is a reader’s house. I bought it because there are so many nooks and places a person can settle down with a book and get lost for a few minutes or a few hours. I had one favorite reading space in our old house. There was a big, oak chair in my overcrowded office where I could sit and read. It was a tranquil place but not near any windows so all the light was artificial and night was the best time to enjoy.

Our new home has windows and glass doors through which sunlight pours. We’ve put couches and chairs near all of these, creating little sunlight wells. Most days I feel very much like a cat, slinking from sunny spot to sunny spot finding places to stretch my bones. In the two months we’ve been here, I think I have read as many books as I read all of last year.

Place, I think, is very important to readers. And it doesn’t have to be fancy or spacious. It just needs to be yours. There is palpable magic inside a reader’s house. You can walk through and feel those sanctified spaces, consecrated by time, attention and hours of holy focus, where the mind and heart are blended and unseen doors stand ajar in the places where mundane reality has been made thin through the constant press of imagination. This same phenomenon happens in good libraries and bookstores. That chill that arrives when you stand in a place and can feel, whether it is silent or not, a kind of vibrating hush, defining the space. This happens sometimes in church, often in the woods, but always in the sacred spaces where imagination has been loosened and allowed to prowl free. Amidst the noise and confusion, the complexity and turmoil, there are still sacred places in our tired and busy world. You will find them when you look. You can start by looking in a reader’s home.

Alone, Together: More Thoughts on Reading

My post this morning missed a more elementary, obvious fact about why The Storied Life of AJ Fikry works so well. It is commonly believed that reading is a solitary act and that readers are, for the most part, selfish with the time they devote to their inner selves. There is, I think, a belief that too much reading carries a person far away from the company of others and makes that person a stranger, alienated from the fellowship of friends, neighbors and fellow citizens of the world. There is an expectation that too much reading makes a person strange, unfit for healthy relationships and the regular responsibilities all decent people must bear. In this belief, reading is a kind of madness, a flaw in one’s nature that separates us from other, more productive pursuits.

And yet, the story of AJ Fikry is exactly the opposite. Reading carries him into closer communion with others. His reading makes him brave. His reading widens his heart. His reading is not selfish. For Fikry, reading is an act of generosity as he constantly shares what he has read and relates his own reading to the lives of others. He reads to bring others in, not to push them out. His reading is a kind of communion, an act of radical belief in the importance of ideas and virtues and commitment. Fikry creates a family through books. He finds the people who best understand what he is about. He broadens the lives of others who felt their lives too narrow.

And it is exuberant love of sharing that makes his reading worthwhile. It isn’t an act of self focus that consumes the reader. The life of the generous reader is made larger through the time spent with books. Though sometimes, it is true, we may read to escape, we never read to make ourselves feel alone. We read to help keep ourselves together.