I rotate display of original-print classics like A.A. Milne’s series that includes THE HOUSE at POOH CORNER, as well as my favorite titles by my best-loved authors

When I spotted the handwritten notes inside this novel from my local library, I was aghast. I’ve made peace with, and now find amusement in, coffee and other stains, forgotten bookmarks that include intimate notes, grocery lists and utility bills. Even the occasional dog-eared pages no longer make me wince. But ink on the page of a published work took me back in a visceral way – that stomach ache and involuntary grimace that take hold when witnessing a covert and irreversible act of disrespect. And in a Kristin Hannah novel of all books! Hard cover! Owned by the community, in effect, as it’s a library loan.

Flashback fifty years to the New York Public Library Bookmobile that delivered the gems of that treasure chest to nerdy, bespectacled, fat and freckled, grade-schooler me in Queens, at Public School 2. There in the 1960s, librarians were the ambassadors of life beyond the boroughs. I could no more break their rules and write in my prized copies of Harriet the Spy or From the The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler than graffiti the walls of my parents’ row home.

But curiosity pushed my objections aside and I’m grateful for the open mind these decades of reading have produced in me. I took a closer look at this ritual of the patrons of the Torrington Public Library, and what I saw – and absorbed – was contagious passion, reverence and enthusiasm. A heartwarming and spontaneous outpouring of appreciation for our cherished Kristin Hannah and her inspiring novel that cracks the stoniest skeptics of the power of love. And suddenly, this ritual of readers to date, rate and record their reactions to books, right then and there, on the inside page, made sense to me. It became more than okay. It felt right. Befitting.

Reading is alive and real. Reactions are raw. Handwriting is personal – and compelling. Now that it’s fleeting – relinquished to the diminishing ranks of us paper greeting card and thank you note senders – handwritten sentiments are special. Authentic. Even coveted. Like my copies of the books delivered on the NYPL Bookmobile, longhand comments are the shared resources of my community, composed of individuals – each one as unique as their penmanship and perspective. Each a testament to the enduring value we place on books, authors and reading and which we celebrate in the United States today.

So many of you, my fellow readers – and readers of this blog – are outside the U.S. Please don’t let that stop you from joining me in marking National Read a Book Day! Will you share with me the titles and authors on your desk, list, nightstand or device?

Lisa Bernard is semi-retired, leaning into life and love on horseback, with pescetarian foodie finds and her treasured family, faith and seasonal rituals in Litchfield County, Connecticut. She shares her travels, peaceful encounters with wildlife and other city-turned-country-girl activities in photos, blog posts and columns in Lakeridge Life Magazine and on Instagram @LisaBernardWriting. Share your story ideas and comments below or send privately to LisaBernardWriting@gmail.com.

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