Outside the tiny branch of the Philadelphia Library, cars rumbled by, music blaring loudly from their speakers. Kids played noisily on the sidewalks, their shouts mingling with the rush of traffic in the crisp autumn air. In the distance, the plaintive cry of sirens rent the air.

Padding through the second floor stacks, his eyes scanning the placards marking the contents of each aisle, Kendrick Lamar heard none of this. The library was silent. Kendrick's mind was serene, its focus complete. He glanced up at the sagging banner over the librarian's station, the one that had been proudly hung at the beginning of the summer, announcing the East Coast Interlibrary Read-a-thon. What a summer it had been, he thought, letting the barest chuckle escape his throat. He thought back on those early days, when the read-a-thon had just been announced, when it just seemed like an amusing summer diversion, a way to see who on the East Coast could read the most books while raising money for libraries in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere. How things had changed from those whimsical days, when the pages on his reading log seemed to fly by with ease, when it was just about the joy of reading.

He stopped, finally finding his favorite section, Political Science, the 320s of the Dewey Decimal system. He ran his fingers over the spines of various tomes, fondly remembering some of the summer's great reads. Nothing was the same since he'd read Control, Glenn Beck's diatribe on American gun control laws. But really things had changed after that early tally, when Kendrick had found himself pages and pages ahead of his competition. Already, he had been the clear frontrunner, especially among participants in Manhattan, the King of New York. He smiled, wistfully, thinking of the way that had sparked competition. Big Sean had stopped reading Mad! Magazine for a week or two to focus on literature. A$AP Rocky was halfway through Proust. Drake was deep into the Gossip Girl series, racking up major page counts as he stayed up to date with all the prep school drama. Mac Miller, uninterested in the competition but wanting to play along, had been checking out the same book about medicinal crystals out over and over again for weeks.

And then Meek Mill. Kendrick shook his head, thinking about the way Meek had gamely kept nipping at his heels throughout the whole read-a-thon, his appetite for thrillers and economics texts seemingly unquenchable. He wondered what would happen when the final tallies were totaled that Saturday, at the Philadelphia Public Library's Powerhouse event, when the winners would take the stage to talk about their favorite reading material. Kendrick absentmindedly grabbed a Joe Biden biography and a couple of books on the Supreme Court justices and added them to his stack. He began making his way toward the checkout desk.

Just as Kendrick reached the end of the aisle, a large figure came hurrying around the corner, bumping into him. Books flew everywhere, and Kendrick took a couple steps back. Kneeling to pick them up, he looked up at the guy he'd run into, who was already forming an apology. They locked eyes. It was Meek Mill.

 

Books flew everywhere, and Kendrick took a couple steps back. Kneeling to pick them up, he looked up at the guy he'd run into, who was already forming an apology. They locked eyes. It was Meek Mill.

 

"I'M SOR—KENDRICK?" Meek Mill shouted. He seemed confused, but then his gaze landed on the books Kendrick had dropped. "WAIT, YOU PICKED UP THE LAST COPY OF MALCOLM GLADWELL'S OUTLIERS? I WAS LOOKING ALL OVER FOR THAT."

As Kendrick began stammering a response, a librarian stocking shelves craned her neck into the main aisle from behind the stacks, shooting Meek Mill a look.

"DAMMIT, I WANTED TO READ THAT SHIT" Meek Mill said, trying to whisper but shouting anyway. He gathered himself, finally. "YOU KNOW WHAT? WHATEVER, MAN. IF YOU THINK THAT MALCOLM GLADWELL BOOK IS GOING TO WIN THIS READ-A-THON FOR YOU, BE MY GUEST. I'M OUT HERE CHASING MY DREAM TO READ ALL OF STEPHEN KING AND GUESS WHAT? I MADE IT. I GOT THE LAST ONE RIGHT HERE: PET CEMETERY. WORD TO KILLA CAM."

"It's ironic," Kendrick began. "I mean, here you are, wanting to read this book about how to be the best, and here I am, reading it, even though I already am." He watched the taunt set in.

"BRO," Meek Mill began, but the librarian peeked her head out again and interjected.

"Excuse me, sir. Could you please use your inside voice in the library?"

"THIS IS MY INSIDE VOICE," Meek Mill muttered. Kendrick was still eying him. The air crackled between the two of them, the knowledge that so much would be decided when the read-a-thon wrapped up that weekend. The page counts would settle things once and for all. They stared each other down.

"You really think you can even compete?" Kendrick finally asked, breaking the silence. "I just keep thinking about this read-a-thon medal, and, to myself I'm like, 'Look inside of my soul and you can find gold and maybe get rich...' I mean, we'll see, but I just feel like, in this read-a-thon, it's gonna be King Kendrick. What is that you're even reading? A book about dogs?"

"YO, IT'S CHAPTERS TO THIS SHIT," Meek yelled, waving Pet Cemetery in the air. "DUDE, YOU READ THAT GLENN BECK BOOK AND WENT OFF THE DEEP END—."

A loud shushing noise came from aisle with the librarian in it.

"Look, man, I gotta go," Kendrick said, gathering his books. "We'll see what happens when they tally the numbers."

Kendrick brushed past Meek Mill, heading to the checkout desk. Meek Mill sighed in frustration. He set down his books on a nearby cart, and opened up Twitter, hoping to continue the argument silently.

 

Kendrick brushed past Meek Mill, heading to the checkout desk. Meek Mill sighed in frustration. He set down his books on a nearby cart, and opened up Twitter, hoping to continue the argument silently.

 

"Aye @kendricklamar ima show you who king on this side at powerhouse Friday! #philly," he wrote, adding a wide-eyed shock emoji. He paused for a moment, then composed a second tweet. "Same stage 1 night! #oohkillem," he wrote. Whatever happened with this read-a-thon, it was going to come to a head on Friday night. Meek Mill picked up his books and headed to check out. The librarian paused as he scanned Meek Mill's library card.

"Meek Mill?" he asked, looking up. Meek Mill put on his best smile and reached for a pen on the librarian's desk, knowing he was about to get asked to sign an autograph.

"YEAH," he replied.

"You have some outstanding fines you need to pay before you can check these out," the librarian said. "It looks like you never returned The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success."

"OH COME ON," Meek Mill said, putting the pen down. "HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO KEEP ON TELLING YOU: I BROUGHT DEEPAK BACK. IT'S NOT OVERDUE."

After some more back and forth, the librarian relented. Meek Mill checked out his books and headed outside. When he got to the street, he saw Kendrick waiting for the bus. The Compton rapper looked agitated, and he was pacing back and forth. Meek Mill hurried down to him.

"HEY MAN YOU OKAY?" he asked. Kendrick looked up.

"Yeah, yeah I guess," he answered. After a beat he said, "I guess I'm just nervous. Who knows what's going to happen with this read-a-thon, and all read-a-thons heading forward? I mean, me losing? That would be real poetic justice, huh?"

"NAH, MAN, IT'S FINE," Meek Mill responded. "NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS WE KNOW WE RESPECT EACH OTHER. WE'RE EACH KINGS OF OUR OWN SHIT, YOU KNOW? LIKE, THERE'S KING LEAR, KING ARTHUR, STEPHEN KING, ET CETERA. TONS OF KINGS. I HAVE DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES ABOUT THIS READING SHIT, TOO. BUT IT'S ALL GOOD." He paused, then opened up his backpack. "YOU KNOW WHAT? YOU SHOULD READ THIS. IT ALWAYS CALMS ME DOWN WHEN I'M FEELING ANXIOUS."

He reached in his bag and pulled out a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

"Wow, uh, thanks," Kendrick said, turning the book over in his hands. "But won't this give me the extra pages I need to win this thing?"

"WE'LL SEE," Meek Mill responded. "SEE YOU FRIDAY?"

"Yeah, Friday," Kendrick said, nodding. They bro-hugged. And, with that, Meek Mill turned to walk away, thoughts of what might happen in that pet cemetery bouncing around his head. He couldn't wait to start reading.

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