Teach Me How to Read (again)

I used to be the kid who went to the library every week and left with a stack of 10, 12, 15 books teetering in my arms. I’d go home, find a corner and read. And read. And read.

When my friend Michele and I were tweens, we’d go to each other’s house . . .and read. Yes, just hang out and read.

I pretty much knew I’d be an English Major in college by the time I was 14. Once in college, I took only one (required) Math class and not a single Business class in order to take more literature and philosophy classes.

I still go to the library every week, but now I now leave with a giant bag of books for the kids. If a book makes it in the bag for me, it often goes unopened and unread. And, on the rare occasion that I make it to a book store for some “alone time”, I wander the racks aimlessly until I find myself in the children’s section picking out books for the kids.

It makes me sad that I no longer know what to read, nor do I make time to do it.

I know that I have replaced my “reading habit” with the internet, the short articles in The New Yorker (ok, the cartoons) and with silly reality television. Just typing this has made another 1% of my brain turn to a cottage cheese-like mush, like on those Hulu commercials.

But, when I venture into the library or bookstore now, I have no idea what to pick out. I want to read for fun, not reference. But, I cannot read those Twilight books and hate anything with the word “Shopaholic”, “Lust” or “Alien” in the title. And, I don’t want horror, goth or anything with a “quest”.

If you ask me who I like to read, I struggle a bit to remember and then recall devouring the short stories of Sandra Cisneros and Pam Houston, reading Barbara Kingsolver and Richard Russo, crying over Carol Shields. I just grabbed three of my favorite novels from my bookshelf and they are Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, The Bone People and The Shipping News. Published in 1974, 1984 and 1993, respectfully. Not exactly the latest and greatest, you know?

So, Book People, please come forth and lay your favorites on the table for me. This mama needs to unplug and sit up late, curled up on the couch, with nothing but the ticking of the clock and the sound of pages turning to keep her company.

My (not very) big, fat Greek Wannabees

I used to want to be Italian.

I was so envious of the big family gatherings with its noisy conversations, the joking, the copious amounts of food, the little children running over the old peoples’ feet. The dozens of cousins.

On Sunday, my kids wanted to be Greek.

We were at the baptism for the third child of close friends. Walking into the stunning Greek Orthodox church for the ceremony, I was reminded of when their other two children were baptized and of their wedding. We have been part of several of this family’s big events, and I recognized quite a few people.

After the traditional and lovely Greek ceremony, we went to a function hall for dinner. It took a little while, but pretty soon, my kids were off and running through the building with the other kids, acting as if they too had dark hair, dark eyes—in other words, acting just like they too were cousins.

On the dance floor, the girls joined the circle to dance to the Greek music.


I later told them that one of the things I love most about this type of gathering is knowing that the same music and dancing, these customs, have been done by people for thousands of years. Being a part of it is like being a part of the link between the past and the future.

The girls really enjoyed the traditional Greek music and tried to figure out the dance steps the grownups were doing. Jilly almost made me spit my drink out when she excitedly said, “MOMMY! We HAVE to get this CD!”


Even D enjoyed the dancing, albeit for different reasons. Seems he already knows how to pick ’em.


Hell bound?

When I was 16, I met a girl who told me my parents were going to hell.

I was at the beach with my friend Michele, who was a year older than me and able to drive us an hour-and-a-half to the seashore.

As we sat on our blanket, listening to classic rock streaming from our boom box, a smiling blond girl approached and asked if she could talk to us.

So innocent was I, that I assumed she just wanted to meet some kids her own age. I scooted over and made room on our blanket. The three of us started to talk about our lives: where we were from, our favorite bands, our schools and friends.

And, then, abruptly, talk turned to religion. Specifically, her religion.

I got a sick feeling in my stomach as I realized that she had joined us with a mission. A mission to convert us to her religion, which happened to be a form of Christianity. Michele and I were Roman Catholics, but not particularly good ones. I mean, we were good kids, but we weren’t heavily versed in the bible and didn’t know much more than what we’d learned in CCD. And, I had not put much deep thought into religion other than to go through the motions at church and in class.

So, on that summer’s day, I got a little prickly as this smiling girl spoke about the need to accept Jesus–to be “born again”–or risk going to hell.

I asked her, flat out, about those people who live good, respectable lives but didn’t accept Jesus as savior. Like. . .her parents (she had mentioned that they did not follow her religion).

“Well, I guess my parents will go to hell”, she said casually, as if she were discussing where they might go on vacation.

“Are you kidding?” I said. “I refuse to believe that my parents, who are good, kind people, will go to hell.”

“Well, yes, they will, unless they accept Jesus into their lives”.

I wasn’t sure if my parents had “accepted Jesus into their lives”, but I was fairly certain their spotty church attendance and inability to quote scripture was not boding well for them.

Somehow we got rid of her, but this episode has never truly left me. It has probably been a big reason I no longer believe in the Christian view of Heaven and Hell.

I decided yesterday that, in addition to my other Resolutions, I wanted to make a real effort to show people more kindness and gratitude for what they do for me. I want to “see” those anonymous people that enter in and out of my life—the kid who bags my groceries, the person selling me coffee from the drive-through window, the man asking for change on the corner. I want to be better about thanking them, saying hello or lending a hand when I can, especially when I am busy, preoccupied, stressed, late.

I want to be a better person here on this earth, right now.

And, while this may not be enough to get me into a Christian heaven, I still think Jesus—man or God, whichever you believe—would approve.