When I was a kid, my favorite thing in the entire world to do was to read. It didn’t matter what: kids books, cereal boxes, billboards, receipts, books off my mom’s bookshelf. To me, it didn’t even really matter if I understood what was going on, I would just let the words paint a picture; a little world that I could step into, if just for a few moments. Every story, once started, began an insatiable hunger to see what would happen next, and there was no resting until I got there. 

As I got older, the story that I became invested in was my own, and I put the books aside because I thought I didn’t have time for them anymore. I was too excited by my own narrative. Every new thing I learned was an unexpected plot twist, every moment of change a new chapter. Throughout elementary school, then middle school, then high school, I would hang onto every second of every day just waiting to see what was going to happen, what the moral of the story was. But it never came. I kept waiting for the author who was writing my tale to tell me what it all meant, who the book was for, and why they were writing it.

It wasn’t until I graduated high school and all of the safety bars fell away that I realized who had been holding the pen all along. I wasn’t riding the rhythm of someone else’s words or dancing to the music of their prose. In fact, if I had peeked my head over the pages, or carelessly flipped through to see the next chapter, I would’ve found nothing but blank paper. To realize that was absolutely terrifying. I had spent my whole life reading other people’s stories, letting the writer make the decisions, and reveling in their brilliance. I didn’t know how to write or how to tell a story that I wanted to be a part of. I wasn’t safe on the top of the mountain, I was dangling over the precipice, armed with nothing but my own wits and a whole lot of life left to live. 

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But as I fought through my first months of college I realized something. I wasn’t alone. I had all of the stories I’d read. Nobody writes in a vacuum, just like nobody leads a life all by themselves. All of the plots, all of the pages, all of the characters were still with me, and they had been all along. They’d been hidden between the lines of every chapter and woven into the letters. In my preoccupation with being afraid of the blank page, I’d lost sight of the joy of being inspired and letting the words of others mean something to me. The story wasn’t just about me, it was about what others’ stories have to say and how I could learn from them.

It’s for this reason that I love Lila Lou’s Little Library so very much. Lila Lou, whose nose is always buried in a book, knows something that I didn’t for a long time. The real joy of reading and writing is in sharing that joy with others and with yourself. She builds her little library because she knows about the adventures that lie within, and she can’t imagine keeping them to herself. She creates a treasure trove of words, and I hope to carry a little bit of that with me every day. As I take control of my narrative, I let myself be inspired and take the time to listen. I’ve rediscovered the delight of reading cereal boxes and billboards and books off of my mom’s bookshelf, and I’ve found that letting them take me on a ride makes me closer to my family, to my friends, to myself, and to the world.

Like Lila Lou, I think we should all take the time to find our favorite stories, to let them consume us, and to never hesitate a single second to share them with others. To me, that’s the real joy of reading. 

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Matt Popp is a student at the University of Michigan studying English and Psychology. In his free time he loves to write, and he’s extremely passionate about film, queer theory and activism. His inspirations include Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and his cat, Tokey.