September 19

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There’s Nothing to Eat; There’s Nothing to Read by Berit Gordon

There isn’t anything to eat in my house. My two older kids are at sleepaway camp, and I’ve let our fridge become a wasteland of containers no one wants to open, in addition to huge watermelons and Costco-sized bags of mini carrots that only my teens like to eat. The more crowded it becomes with unappealing foods, the more it starts to feel like a sad display case of rejection foods, not a place to find nourishment.

I keep opening the fridge door and staring, shifting some things around aimlessly, then closing it again. Same with the cabinets: bags and boxes and cans of food, and yet I still feel like there’s nothing worth fashioning into a meal. There’s been a lot of cereal, then hummus and cracker meals. I mean, I’m not going to not eat. I’m just not eating well.

I’m grazing in my reading, too. Perusing the headlines, an article here and there. Then there’s my Kindle filled with unread books, a stack from the library that’s going to start accruing what I call my monthly donation in fines, and the young adult books that I borrow from my older kids. I start one each night, and yet have finished none. There’s nothing to read.

I am a reader. It’s my “thing.” I don’t brag about a lot, but if I did, reading would be up there, and ironically, cooking too. I got good at both by doing that thing. A lot. Every day. And, when you do something a lot for decades, you get good at it.

But I still have slumps. Big apathetic slumps that showcase reading resistance, just like the students I know who struggle to find a bit of joy in reading. And I don’t even have the added combo of learning struggles, a lack of identity as a reader, multiple languages, or missing foundations of reading habits to contend with! So last night as I turned to Netflix, knowing that is exactly what so many students do and I mentally chide them for, I wondered what was getting in the way.

Finding a book I really want to read, that’s what.

Three weeks ago I stayed up late, stole extra long bathroom breaks, and lugged a heavy hardcover around in my purse because I couldn’t put it down. It was Richard Russo’s Everybody’s Fool, in case you’re wondering. I know and love his books, so when it came out I splurged and brought it home like a perishable fruit, like it might spoil if I didn’t devour it. And then I did devour it. It was delicious.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been waiting for that same kind of luscious book to fall into my lap, but without doing a lick of work to find it. I haven’t scoured goodreads, or asked my mom what she’s reading, or put books on hold at the library that I saw reviewed in The New York Times. None of the things I usually do to find a book I really WANT to read, and the result has been: crackers and hummus. I go through the act of eating with no real satisfaction or nourishment, and the act of reading without losing myself in another world.

I’m going through the motions because I didn’t plan ahead and get ready. Decades into reading well, and I still can’t rely on a book fairy to descend and plop “just-my-taste” books on my nightstand. I’ve still got to do the legwork to find them, and that’s never going to end. Whole shifts in my routine (summer) can throw those things out of whack, and then I need to get back on track. This is exactly what happens to our students, times a million.

Reluctant readers need even more help and support to find books they’ll want to read from cover to cover. Each time they finish a book and wonder, ‘what next?’ they may need to relearn how to find that perfect book. Changes in routine like vacations and exams and a million other things will rock the boat. We need to remember to show them how to get back on track and take the time to find the right book.

Planning for reading and being picky about our book choices is important. Dinners don’t go on the table without a lot of pre-thinking about menus and ingredients and timing and what it is people at that table will actually want to eat. Real reading doesn’t happen, even for “readers”, without thinking ahead, too.

I’m sick of grazing on cereal and Netflix and books that don’t grab me. So, I’m going to devote time later to putting books on hold at the library that I want to read. I’m getting ready. And while I’m at it, I’m checking out a cookbook, too.

Berit Gordon helps students fall in love with reading and writing. She coaches and celebrates teachers who do the same. Read, write, teach, celebrate, question, reflect, listen grow. That sums up her educational and working life in New Jersey, and on her good days, her family life, too. Check out her other posts atberitgordon.com