Dear Alberto Ríos

My name is Basma. I am a freshman and I love to read. I am not very familiar with your poems, but I really liked “Don’t Go Into the Library.” It reminded me of what it feels like to enter a library and how, just like you said, you never come out empty handed. Unfortunately I haven’t been going to the library or reading as often as I used to, but this poem made me remember all the great books and memories I’ve had there. Maybe that’s because I don’t have time, or maybe because I haven’t made time.

My favorite line of the poem was “the donut scent of it all, knowledge.”  I cannot describe exactly what libraries smell like, but if I had to try I would say it is a musty mix of aged books and old lady perfume. That might sound not very appealing, but as soon as I walk into the library, I get a waft of this scent of knowledge, and it is one of the best smells in the world, filled with nostalgia and happiness. It also reminds me of the other senses you can experience at the library. Like how dust shimmers in the sunlight like fairy dust and the only sound that is audible is the turning of pages. The library is like a sensory paradise.

Describing the library as the book of books was very interesting to me. Just as you said, the concrete walls are like the book cover. To me, each shelf of books is like a new page, ready to be turned and explored. Once you start, the suspense urges you to turn the corner and delve into a whole new genre, author, or demographic.

Books are arguably the most important and useful resource a person can have, which is why I love them so much. They remind us of the past and allow us to fantasize about the future. They taught us how to read and even how to speak. They gave us a good night's sleep and a perfect start to the morning. I could go on and on about how amazing books are, but that would be way too long of a letter.

I’m very interested in your writing process. Do you write a draft, and come back to it every couple of days, or does it all come to you at once, like a revelation? Would you consider writing a hobby, or an occupation? How do you deal with writer’s block? What is your favorite poem you have ever written? Favorite book?

I sometimes struggle trying to find the perfect wording in my papers, and I would appreciate if you could give me any advice. I find myself stuck in a loop of writing, deleting, writing, deleting, over and over again. How do you know when you have the perfect essay? What could be done to improve it? How should a student prepare before starting to write an essay?

Your poem has greatly encouraged me to try to start reading and going to the library more, but not before I go to Krispy Kreme, because it also made me crave donuts. Thank you for inspiring me to write an ode to books and libraries in the form of a letter, and thank you for taking the time to read it.


Grade 9
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Hello, Basma,

Thank you for these thoughtful observations.  I am still laughing about your last paragraph, about how, because of the poem, going to the library is something that is important to you again—but not before doughnuts!

Your complex discussion on the scent of a library is excellent—how it can be the smell of musty books and old lady perfume and still be the scent of knowledge itself, the actual centering reason for a library’s existence, all of it speaking to you, or to your nose.  The library is, indeed, a sensory paradise, and for your brain most of all—whatever sense that encompasses.  I would call it an appeal to our sixth sense, the sense of wonder.

Your question about writing for me is an interesting one.  It’s neither a hobby nor an occupation.  It’s something else, something harder to explain, something more systemic, like breathing.  It’s just regular.  It’s just part of me.  It just is.

Alberto Ríos

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