Book Pushing by Mary Lou Shuster


They say confession is good for the soul so I am here to confess to all of you that I am, “gulp”, a book pusher. And I have no shame – I push to adults and children and not just in book venues either, as you will soon see. I do not discriminate. I take every opportunity to push books and even create situations when I can. I know I am incorrigible and I know I cannot stop. It is an addiction and one that cannot be cured by any drug or doctor. I pushed to doctors and nurses for goodness sakes! Here is my story.

It started innocently enough in the most innocent of places; a bookstore and I just wanted to be helpful. As I was perusing the shelves for new and interesting titles that I needed to read, I couldn’t help but notice the boy, (why is it often a boy?) accompanied by his mother, (and why he always with his mom?) head bent, eyes down, looking like a bookstore was the last place he wanted to be. The mother kept pulling random titles off the shelf and saying, “What about this one?” in a desperate attempt to find something, anything, her son would read. Then there was the inevitable line, “We have to get something, and you are required to read such and such for such and such.” You fill in the blanks.

I couldn’t help it; I was drawn to the scene. It was if my mouth and body were operating by themselves. As if someone else was speaking, I heard myself say, “Perhaps I can help, I’m a teacher . . ..” The mom looked at me with such a look of sweet relief it was if I had just saved her from a burning building. The boy still didn’t trust me however and hadn’t lifted his head up. He was probably thinking, “Great, now I have a mom and a teacher, could this day get any better?” But I think I surprised him when my first question was, “Do you have any particular movies or video games you really like?” His eyes looked up as if he couldn’t believe a grown-up person was actually speaking the words “video games” out loud to him. Of course he left with a book and mom thought I was an angel sent from heaven! Book pushing at bookstores became a habit. I actually started lingering (o.k. lurking) around the chapter book section until I could score.  The high was incredible. I couldn’t leave until I had connected someone with a book.

But my book pushing didn’t remain in the confines of the bookstores. I began to branch out as opportunities arose. At the osteopath’s one day, we began talking about reading and he confessed to me, in confidence, that he was not a reader and never had been. I knew I had to be his “connection.” He did say he would try to read “something” and at the next appointment he said he had tried to listen to an audio book but it hadn’t worked out so well. The next time I came, I brought him Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, knowing the story was excruciatingly captivating and would also engage a doctor who couldn’t help diagnose the mother. As I handed him the book he told me he couldn’t promise me anything but as he came bursting through the door for our next appointment, the first words out of his mouth were, “I read, I read!’ sounding as excited as a first grader reading their first book! I guess this was waaaay more important than asking how my hip was feeling, which was actually just fine with me because I had hooked another reader outside of my playing field.

Well that darn hip continued to aid me in the book pushing business as I went on to have an operation. As I lay in the bed, waiting for day surgery one morning, the nurse asked me if she could get me anything. I said it would be great if she could give me the book out of my backpack. When I pulled out a second grade chapter book, she looked at me with a strange expression, so I felt the need to explain my job as literacy specialist. (This of course often opens the floodgates for many people to discuss their children. I have an ongoing conversation with my dental hygienist about her son’s reading life!)

She began to talk to me about her second grade son and how hard it had been to leave him that morning because he hated school this year and didn’t want to go. The school told her he needed to see a therapist and she was beside herself because he had loved school last year. As we continued our conversation I discovered she had been in to observe and during “read to self” time he wasn’t really reading but just page turning because the books were too hard. By the end of the conversation we had pretty much figured out he didn’t need a counselor but books he could read. I gave her a list of books and my business card and told her to write to me anytime. Before I went in for surgery she said, “I came into work with such a heavy heart today, and I feel so much better now. I can’t thank you enough. I know I’m supposed to be making you feel better, but you really have made me feel so much better. Thank you so much.” So, the operation didn’t fix the hip by the way, but I’m thinking maybe there is a reason for it  . . .

There are many more stories like these – the father who needed a fantasy book for his 13 year old daughter? No problem! The elderly couple who were looking for Maine books for their grandchildren coming to visit from South Dakota? A cinch! The depressed looking tween and irate mother who needed something for the summer reading list? Easy! The eager reader who had read everything? I couldn’t wait to show her the latest and greatest!

Here’s another secret – I bet many Nerdy Book Club members are book pushers too! I would love to hear your funniest or most outrageous book pushing stories. Use the #BookPushing and we can share them!


When Mary Lou Shuster isn’t book pushing she is busy connecting students to books in her job as literacy specialist at Buxton Center Elementary School in Maine. She is a proud member of the Nerdy Book Club, a committee member of nErdcamp Northern New England and can be followed on Twitter @litcoachlou. She also makes her boyfriend, Dominic, listen to her read aloud picture books.