by Marisa Branco
On the first Saturday of July, I drove away from Great Books Summer Program at Stanford. I had spent the past two weeks reading, discussing, and attending lectures about books with about a hundred other high school students—from all over 49 states and 39 countries. I didn’t want to leave that little world, where it always smelled like sunscreen and you could never get enough sleep. While we read a lot, we stayed up late each night talking even more.
This was my fourth year at Great Books, with only two sessions left until I graduate from high school. I can’t imagine a summer not punctuated by this camp. My friends and I had already promised, sitting cross-legged in the Burbank common room, that we would try to return as Program Assistants. None of us could stand the thought of losing this special community we had come to love.
Great Books is not about the camp, really. It’s about the people it attracts. It’s about readers. I am absolutely convinced that readers are the best people in the world. They have so much respect for ideas. A community of readers was the first place where I thought that my ideas and interpretations were unique and worth sharing. Readers taught me a new reverence for the perspectives of others. I was so honored that people would share the way they read, allowing me, for a brief moment, to see into the way they looked at the world.
The thing that makes Great Books so remarkable is the enthusiasm that each person contributes. The people there bring literature to life; they make the words blossom. It’s beautiful. Meeting so many lovely, amazing, intelligent people transformed reading from a solitary practice into something that has the power to connect others.
Books and the people who read them with care have so much power. For me, there is nothing more magical than sitting in a room full of readers, a room packed with minds that have the ability to tear down walls. By discussing an author’s influence, we learned so much together about our own world through the ones we borrow from books.
When I got home, it was eerily quiet. Even with the sounds of four other people talking and moving throughout the house, nothing can really compete with the sound of a floor of girls bursting with words—about words, books, literature.
My friends texted me one by one as their flights touched down in cities around the world. I could feel the distance stacking up between us. I flipped through my notebook from camp, stuffed with poetry and short stories that fell from between the pages like rain. The back of the notebook was crammed with Creative Writing exercises. There were pages that switched handwriting by paragraph as the notebook had been passed back and forth. I ran my fingers over the angular handwriting that looked alien on a page filled with my loopy print. I wasn’t going to lose my friends to distance. They are only as far as their word; as long as we have books to love, we will stay connected forever.