Recently, I saw a commercial on television from a large spice company where, instead of providing recipes or showing the flavors they offer, they chose to promote the memories that come from those flavors. Garlic isn’t garlic, it’s the smell of grandmothers pierogi. Cinnamon brings to mind the apple pie your family shares every Thanksgiving. It was a simple idea and it got me thinking. Much in the same way that spices can be more than how you improve a dinner, books are far more than words on a page. They’re memories. Moments in time that stick with us.

With that in mind, I wanted to share a list of the things that reading is to me. Books can monumentally change the way a collective society thinks but they can also simply provide a smile to a person having a difficult day. They’re not just words. They’re possibilities.

Reading is the literary tattoo you get that reminds you of your significant other so that, no matter where you go, there they are. It’s the quote hidden away under a shirt that no one else knows is there and no one but the two of you know what it truly signifies.

It’s finding an online book club and creating a community of friends through a shared fandom.

It’s having a lifelong love of Russian literature and then discovering your grandmother’s 100-year-old collection of Ibsen and Tolstoy.

It’s the spark of a social movement. The fan that flames the fires of positive change.

It’s sitting down for your annual reading of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as the leaves change and Autumn comes to life.

Reading is the look on a child’s face the first time they walk into a library and you explain that, yes, these books are all free to read.

It’s going to a midnight release party at a bookstore and then staying up way too late finding out what happened to the characters you’ve missed so much.

It’s having a Wild Things or Wonderland themed wedding.

It’s crying because a character you’ve spent years hating died doing something heroic, changing everything you thought about them.

It’s a teen questioning their place in the world and discovering a literary character going through exactly the same thing.

It’s remembering the first scratch and sniff holiday book your uncle or aunt bought you every time you smell fresh balsam.

Reading is the one story you know will put your toddler to sleep.

It’s being unable to see a Velveteen Rabbit without wanting to sob.

It’s waiting in line an hour at a book festival to meet your favorite author, not just for a signed copy, but to tell them that their story changed your life.

It’s the simple peace and happiness a parent experiences while their child is at story time in the library.

It’s truly believing your Hogwarts letter will come someday, Narnia really is behind your clothes and that in some trunk in your attic there’s an alethiometer just waiting to be found.

It’s letting your child “secretly” stay up late reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark because you know it’ll lead to them being an adult who stays up all night reading as well.

It’s understanding why you’re parent got misty eyed reading you your favorite book now that you’re doing the same for your child.

Reading is the bond we form both with fictional characters we’ll never meet and friends that will last a lifetime. It can be the foundation of a family memory or the introduction to a new acquaintance. It’s a thousand page epic that we dissect for centuries and a single line that instantly moves your heart forever. Reading is the stories that teach us the gamut of emotions we, as humans, can experience and the fact that it’s okay to have those feelings.

Reading is happiness, joy, sorrow, and reflection. Reading is what helps define who we are and who we can become. Its’ where we’ve been and where we can go. It’s the home we’ve always had and the ones we are yet to find. It’s all of these things and more. It can be what shapes and defines us or it can be a single moment of comfort. Reading can be anything and, often times, it can also be everything.