What Are You Reading?

I’m always curious about the reading lives of people, so I ask them,”What are you reading?” Their responses fall into an informal rubric I’ve developed over the years. Some share immediately. Ah, a reader I’m thinking. Some pause, ponder, then share. Hmm . . . readers but haven’t been reading lately I’m thinking. Some are embarrassed. Readers once but not what they do any more I’m thinking. Some just quizzically stare. Non-readers I’m thinking.

I also ask this question when service folks come calling. The handyman who has come to fix the handle on our storm door. The man who comes to clean out our septic tank. The women who come to clean twice a month because my husband and I gave ourselves a gift for 24 cleaning sessions from a local cleaning service. Nice gift! Only five sessions left. Withdrawal is imminent.

The cleaning folks are not always the same;  and, of course,  I ask them all what they are reading.

One young woman in her early twenties whom I’ll call Lisa answered immediately. She had just finished another Ellen Louise Hopkins book. She has been a fan since high school when she began with Hopkins’ first book Crank. She told me she, her sister and two other friends always go to the book store together when another of her  books comes out. I asked Lisa what drew her to Crank. I expected her response would focus on the controversial drug-centered life of the main character, a  female teenager. You know, reading about a forbidden topic in graphic detail. I was surprised by her answer. She said her mother had been a drug addict when Lisa  was growing up. Lisa explained that she used the books to help her grow up, a parenting guide in a world gone crazy. The teenager in the book was also pregnant. Lisa disclosed that she also had a child during her teenage years.


How many times in my reading workshop trainings have I preached the importance of cultivating the reading interests of students. I have always pointed out that life-long readers are people who have discovered topics and stories that interest them. I am a passionate reader. My interests range far and wide, yet it was Lisa who reminded me again  how books can act as parents for our emotional wounds. Ellen Hopkins spoke to Lisa through her books because Hopkins’ own daughter was a drug addict, and she claims that about 60% of the book is based on her daughter’s life. It’s real and Lisa could relate to that realness.

And Lisa’s reading continues. She told me she and her sister, with respective families, were going camping the coming weekend. Her sister was bringing a novel set in the location where they had grown up. They planned to read it out loud to each other around the camp fire. Sounds like life-long reading to me.


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