Suzanne Facone MacLehose (M.T. ’91 Engl Ed)
When we sit down to read before bed, two of my boys ask me if I’ll read with them. They’re old enough to read by themselves, and they don’t want to slow down to read out loud. Yet, they want me by their sides, on the same page.
Reading is funny that way. While we are alone in our heads as we read, we often want someone to live with us through what we read on the page.
I remember gifting a friend with Bridge to Terabithia, begging a friend to read Pride and Prejudice, and giving in to a friend who wanted me to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Though the experience of reading a text is a personal venture, we want to share these books with the people we love best. And we want them to love ”our book” too—to connect with what made us live larger, laugh out loud, feel more strongly, become more alive.
One afternoon, I released my students from our classroom to venture about the school to talk about books with anyone they could find. This act of talking about books brought our reading community alive. There’s something about finding someone who has shared our experience— who has read about Captain Ahab, listened to Elizabeth Bennett, loved with Jane Eyre–that makes us light up. Perhaps it’s because we have such powerful feelings, and we celebrate when someone can feel what we feel—even when reading on our own is so vital.
Many evenings we pile on to the couch to read our “own books.” Last night, I picked my head up from my page and looked at our family reading. It was a rare moment of quiet, though, like a seismograph, I could feel the powerful movement under the surface.
I also witnessed this powerful shared silence in my English classroom when we spent a class period reading a “great” book we felt we had missed along the way. After reading for the better part of the period, I asked the students if they wanted to comment on their reading experience. One student explained, “When you said, ‘Let’s read,’ it sounded like church when the priest says, ‘Let’s pray.’” Yes, there was a special quality in the classroom—an almost holy connection we shared. While I know how fulfilling it is to talk about books, I was reminded how powerful the simple act of reading together could be.
I notice in my adult life that a lull in conversation can be bridged by the question, “Have you read anything good lately?” My son calls his far away grandfather to talk about The Hardy Boys. Reading helps us to talk with one another and, as we talk, we figure out what is important to us.
My six-year old son and I were reading together a story about a city dog and country frog who became friends. The words were simple and the pictures beautiful. We read about the frog and dog in summer and fall. Then, when we got to the section “Winter,” the dog was alone in the pictures. My son could not continue to read the story. He took a short breath and held it as his eyes filled with tears. He could read no more, a visceral reaction to the realization that the frog would not return.
Together we sat on the couch and cried—both moved by the place that book took us. My six-year-old could not articulate adequately what he was feeling about the book—though we both knew the feelings were real and powerful. What we could do, though, was to sit together and figure out how to respond to life and how to live—what really matters.
Not every book is for everyone. Yet, like a workout that is often hard to start and hard to get through, rarely will we say that we wished we hadn’t read a book once we’re done.
“Only connect” is E.M. Forster’s epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End. As I read that book, I kept looking for those words to emerge—to find on the page the place where “Only connect” would become clear. What Forster is telling us is that we must—and we can through reading—connect, especially in a world where we text rather than talk. Perhaps sharing this act of reading can be our talisman—a way for us to connect with each other as we purposefully explore what is important to us as individuals.
Along the way, won’t it be lovely when we find someone who is on the same page?
Suzanne has been teaching English at Darien High School in Connecticut since 1995.