In her beautiful book about the Los Angeles Public Library fire, Susan Orlean captures the magic of what libraries can offer. She describes walking through the empty library in Downtown LA, not a soul in sight, and feeling connected to all the different voices represented on the millions of pages that surround her.
“A library is a good place to soften solitude,” she writes, “a place where you feel part of a conversation that has gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years even when you’re all alone. The library is a whispering post. You don’t need to take a book off the shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen.”
Books, in this way, are wonderful friends. They are always there. They speak wisdom, but offer their advice quietly. They have an unlimited capacity for listening. They offer so much and ask for essentially nothing in return.
We can say the same about philosophy, which, of course, mostly comes to us in the form of books. As Seneca said, philosophy offers counsel. It does not yell. It levels no personal attacks. No, it calls for you to be better. It is there whenever and wherever you need it. It softens our solitude. It is a true friend.
Books, especially those about philosophy, are that friend who should always be within arm’s reach, who we should turn to constantly. Today, when we have some downtime. Next week when we run into some trouble. In the morning when we are lonely or struggling to start the day. Pick up a book. Read a passage. Listen to the person who truly believed that if they spoke—if they wrote—someone would listen and that it would make a difference.
They weren’t wrong.