A Reading Life…Interrupted by Teri S. Lesesne

My earliest memories are of reading.  I recall the smell of Old Spice as my PopPop read me Pat the Bunny while we balanced in his wheelchair (he was diagnosed with MS the year I was born).  I loved the rides via streetcar from our house to the Carnegie Library in downtown Pittsburgh.  And then there was my stint as a neighborhood school marm  who read aloud to the children who lived nearby.  It seems as though it was a hop, skip, and jump from these activities to my now 40+ years as a teacher.


However, a phone call this past summer changed everything in an instant.   “Teri, you have cancer,” was the simple sentence that was to interrupt my reading life in ways I could not fathom at the time.  They tell you about losing hair, feeling weak, dealing with side effects.  What they do not really talk about is a side effect that is devastating to those of us with powerful reading lives.   For me, and for others, the inability to concentrate for any extended period of time means that the regular reading moments of my life virtually disappeared.  Suddenly, my #bookaday habit became a #bookaweek and then a #bookamonth and then even worse, my #notabookread.  As I neared the treatments, I had read more than 800 books. Since I entered chemo and radiation and surgery, that number stayed fairly steady.  How did I deal with this interruption in my reading life?


I turned to friends who were either dealing with similar situations or who had survived the same interruption and were moving on to a new chapter in their reading lives.  They had terrific advice.  One piece of advice had nothing to do with the illness and treatment.  I could recall hearing Donalyn Miller tell audiences over and over again hat sometimes our lives as readers have  interruptions.  We need to hold on knowing that we have a firm foundation, and that the reading life will, ultimately, resume.  So, I turned off the panic mode.  And I turned to picture books.


I could handle 32 pages in a day.  Sometimes, I could read several picture books a day.  Think for a moment what reading 5 picture books means:  5 books X 32 pages each += 160 pages.  For someone whose reading life was sinking below the horizon, this  accomplishment helped change my attitude about reading.  ANY reading was good.  And, of course, that meant other forms of reading were also good.  I read more with my ears using audiobooks I had collected using the YA Sync offerings from this past summer.  I listened to an NBA Finalist, The  Sun Is Also a Star.  I also read story collections featuring Junie B. Jones with my ears, and even found some informational books abut cancer which spoke to my needs at the time.


So, my reading life is still not back to what was normal  B.C. (before cancer).  But, I am still a reader.  I love listening to stories.  I am encountering some new forms and formats as I listen to adult offerings as well as books for children, tweens, and teens.  My reading life has been interrupted.  However, now it is changing and branching out, and growing.  I relate all this not to simply talk about my own experience, but to remind myself that I am not alone in having a reading life interrupted.  As I move into this new semester, I need to stay aware of how our reading lives might be interrupted.  I need to be prepared to help others find a way back to a fuller reading life.  And, most of all, I need to accept that an interruption is NOT an end to a reading life.   Let me finish with a handful of books that sustained me  this past year.



Du Iz Tak?


The Cat from Hunger Mountain


A Letter to my Teacher


There Is a Tribe of Kids


An Artist’s Alphabet



Teri Lesesne (rhymes with insane) teachers children and YA literature at Sam Houston State University in Texas.  She is the author of 3 books and numerous chapters, articles, and columns about books and reading and is working on a forthcoming book with Donalyn Miller.