Photo by Engin Akyurt 

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads only lives one”

-George R.R. Martin

On another windy Friday night, after a stressful dose of human emotion aka my most recent existential crisis brought on by the newest-released tearjerker at the box-office, I often find myself strolling the aisles of Barnes & Noble looking for the comforting sensation of a new beginning, a new story. Walking among a sea of covers and stories, I’m enamored with the possibility that they could transport me into an alternate existence decorated with eloquently-sketched romantic gestures and overly-dramatic adventures—allowing me to escape from a life of constant MathXL deadlines and 7:00AM Chick-fil-a.

I open the cover, scanning the pages as I prepare myself for the potential entrance, to a new beginning. As my pupils dart back and forth at the words on the page, the vast assemblage of sentences begins to transform into vivid images of my newest life, in which true love exists simply, and the underdog not only wins but starts a revolution in their efforts to do so. This life only spans a few hours, maybe days, as long as it takes me to finish the book. But in the short lifespan, a collection of letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, turns into a safe space to experience the most intense human emotions through the lives of fictional characters. As the bookshelves and pages fade into my newest fantasy world, I’m no longer alone with thoughts fueled my by the struggles of being an adolescent; I’m sharing someone else’s.

Although reading is said to be a lonely activity, the perfect book makes me feel like I’ve developed a relationship with the characters. Sharing their experience first hand provides me comfort.I can identify with  their thoughts, actions and lives. And although this newfound safe space comforting, this form of escapism has also enabled me to ‘practice’ a life through my imagination. Getting lost in these stories and characters gives me a sense of inspiration and fulfillment through my own confusing emotions, thoughts, and fears, it became easier to live other people’s lives, stories, instead of facing my own reality. When I stopped to think, it was easy to uncover the parallels between the aspects of the stories that captivated my attention and my own personal desires to live more freely, romantically; I want to live a story worth telling. Like the ones on the covers I admired in Barnes & Noble, ones with scrolling texts and flowers, lovers and beasts. Only after this realization did I understand that these stories should be used to inspire change, the pursuit of beautiful experiences in my own life, not escape and stagnation. A man who never reads may only live one life. But, a man who only reads never lives.

–Molly Webb ’19