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I will be addressing an annual writers’ gathering at the Huntsville Country Club Thursday night, and I can’t wait to hear what I’ll have to say.

Yep, it is an interesting phenomenon, this out-of-town expert thing. Here in Birmingham, I am your average obscure author, hardly known outside an erratic circle of acquaintances, readers and friends. But take me fifty miles out of town in any direction, and I suddenly become a small-time celebrity to unsuspecting audiences.

This is kind of nice, when I think about it. In the City, I can hide out behind the doors of Reed Books, plying my trade, engaging with customers, going home to my quiet life after hours, primarily unmolested, hopefully un-annoying to others.

But place me before an audience and I suddenly have license to pontificate on all kinds of ideas and subjects…and, unlike real day-to-life, I am actually listened to! People even take notes. Some folks approach me afterwards, asking my opinion and obtaining my autograph. And through it all, I always wonder, “What in the world makes me seem important to others for an hour? Why me?”

The wonderful thing about all this is that I truly enjoy my exchanges with audiences. For just a while, they become my students, I become their teacher or vizier. I learn from them, they take something of me with them, however fleeting.

So…what do I say to an unsuspecting audience?

Maybe I’ll explain my ideas on how a truly dedicated writer interacts with an inner voice. I might say something like, “A writer doesn’t say, ‘Oh, no, what terrible thing is about to happen?’ Instead, a writer doesn’t anticipate and instead says, ‘I wonder what will happen next?’ or ‘I wonder how that happened?’ or ‘I wonder what she is really like?’ or ‘I wonder what’s up?’ or ‘I wonder why I wonder?’ or ‘I wonder what it’s all about?’”

Pulling back from the subject at hand and allowing the story to tell itself is a grand experience. A story that is preordained is pretty much a leaden story. A tale that has the freedom to weave its own magic and simply dictate itself to the author is a tale as exciting as a roller coaster ride. Or at least a bumper car excursion.

So, unless something else occurs to me between now and Thursday night, perhaps this will be my approach to the audience of writers I will face.

Knowing my past behavior, though, something different may dictate itself to me on the drive to Huntsville and my own brain could surprise me by blurting out things I do not know that I know.

Can’t wait to hear what I have to say

© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed




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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow. No Humor Intended.

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I miss my hair.

I don’t miss barbers.

Yep, one day many, many moons ago, I had a full head of hair. Now, though, I still have lots of hair, it’s just that it’s everywhere but atop my head.

I have alarmingly fast-growing hair in my ears, my nose, on my face, on my back, on my chest, and, well, just about all over. And its rate of growth is not full-moon dependent.

Nature has a sense of humor–most of us start out bald and toothless, and we end up…dead.

Now, I know lots of guys who still go to the barbershop, or even the hair stylist, long after their heads are virtually bald. Guys with a little fallen halo of hair rimming half the head from ear to ear, still go and get it trimmed. I guess they’re holding on to every shred of dignity they can.

I don’t blame men who have enormous comb-overs. Others laugh at them, but I laugh at the laughers, who will begin losing hair long before they’re prepared to. I don’t even mind guys with ridiculously obvious toupees, since they, too, are living in the same fantasy world occupied by large-beehived women.

So, does not having any hair mean you’ll never again go into a barbershop or hair salon? I asked one hair stylist in the Big City that question and gave her the challenge.

We brainstormed together.

If you are baldheaded, what can you get at a hair styling place?

1.  You can get your beard shaped and styled.

2.  If your baldness extends to the face, you can ask for a trim–of your nose hairs and eyebrows and ear hairs and that weird hair growing out of the top of your beauty mark.

3.  You can get a therapeutic massage and stop worrying about baldness for a few minutes. The best massages include: deep tissue, Swedish, neuromuscular. HEAL, you baldheaded man!

4.  You can just have your bald pate buffed and shined or powdered. Flaunt it! Move from Captain Kirk to Captain Picard and get some class!

5.  Maybe the most fun you as a baldheaded man can have is to bring family–kids, grandkids, cousins and spouse or friend–to the hair place and sit there and thumb through the pages of beautifully coiffed models in the magazines, and just watch and enjoy the banter  and fun.

Full-head-of-hair guys, beware: an experience like this could make you want to shave your head and join the rest of us sexy devils.

Incidentally, I haven’t been to a barber since 1985, nor have I had a professional hair cut since then. But if I do start going to hair stylists/designers, I’ll let you know. Well, actually, you’ll know because I’ll smell funny for a few hours. What I really like about hair salon places is that, unlike barbers in my day, they don’t discuss politics and sports and hunting and fishing and a thousand other things I have no interest in. They DO gossip, but it’s more like entertainment–more interesting that watching television, funnier than facebooking, less effort than texting,  and much more visual.

By the time you leave the joint, you look better than you are.

What more could anybody ask?

Just asking

© Jim Reed 2016 A.D.




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Everything Has Value, Except Money: The Immutable Rules of Real Life

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Everything Has Value, Except Money

 My Red Clay Diary is safely hidden from harm within my Book of the Thousand and One Amazements, deep within a bank of red clay, covered over by kudzu.

 Each day, new amazements occur. I tend to   notice them.
1.    Things don’t sell for what they are worth, they sell for what they go for.
2.    An outgoing smile is no indication whether there will be an incoming smile.
3.    Smile only if it makes you feel good…don’t expect it to be returned. Appreciate it if it is.
4.    A fake smile is almost always detectable.
 5.    If you find it hard to smile, just think about what is worth smiling about in your life and go with that.
6.    A smile may not be your umbrella on a rainy rainy day, but it can help you have fun getting soaked. Imagine Gene Kelly, who was running a fever the day he filmed the famous rain scene in Singin’ in the Rain.
7.    If you’re afraid you’ll lose face, trying to smile when you don’t feel like it, just sneer and turn it upside down. Post this sign in front of you at all times: SNILE!
8.    First-rate people associate themselves with first-rate people. Second-rate people associate themselves with third-rate people.
9.    Do nice unto others as you would have them do nice unto you. But if they continue not doing nice unto you, drop them and associate only with those who do.
10.  Smile a lot, at nothing at all. It will make people think you know something they don’t. It will drive your enemies crazy. It will draw nice people to you and help you identify people who are not.
11.  Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup.
12.  Those who do not find their mittens do not get pie. Even if they do find their mittens, they still may not get pie.
13.  Sometimes, the sky really is falling.
14.  Every good idea eventually backfires.
15.  Everything has value, except money
16. Even if it cannot possibly go wrong, it might.
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Gentle Insurrectionists Who Surprise Us with Sudden Wisdom

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Gentle Insurrectionists Who Surprise Us with Sudden Wisdom

 The elderly man with slight stoop, dancing Bernie hair and plastic bag filled with newspapers and notes and odds and ends, walks into the shop and, not looking right left up or down, focuses on one small row of books that has captured his vision, intensely examines several titles and picks up a couple.


Entering just behind him are two young people inhabiting their creative Charles Addams costumes and tattoos and piercings, their quiet demeanor both gentle and sweet, their intelligent book selections telling me more than their appearance.


The Bernie-haired customer speaks loudly and intelligently and insistently and feels he’s the only person in the room, as he inquires about titles he would like to order.


Then, it being a busy Saturday, other carnies begin to pour in, creating an instant social event, a cocktail-less party of disparate personalities who ordinarily would not associate one with the other in a backyard barbeque.


Some are lonely, alone and wanting to be noticed at whatever price, others are suburban loft tourists checking out the city life they consider to be curious but fascinating, trailed by couples, cross-dressers, trans everybodies, quiet insurrectionists…all here to instruct us how to be  better people, how to treat each other with respect, regardless of size, shape, color, fragrance, attire, attitude, beliefs, limitations.


These Solitudes are acting out their off-duty personas, being or pretending to be who they are or who they would like to be, forgetting for a few whiles their restricting but necessary day duties, expressing their cultural and counter-cultural uniqueness in the safe environment of an old book store.


No-accounts who, within these walls, do count, do matter.


It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood

 © Jim Reed 2016 A.D.

Down and Out, Up and About. Rinse. Repeat

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Down and Out, Up and About. Rinse. Repeat


“Huh, huh, huh! Cough! Huh!” The enormous woman sitting at the diner is in the loud throes of ecstasy or pain, her face contorted, eyes squinted, mouth agape. I look at the server and ask, “Does she need help?” not knowing whether tragedy has announced itself through the electronic device she is holding in her palm. The clerk glances to the side, sighs, and says, “No, she’s just laughing at something on the internet.” Turns out, she’s an employee on break and he is accustomed to her public uninhibited outbursts.

This day is like that–one moment I’m apprehensive, the next moment, I’m relieved. Each instant can turn from happy to sad to hopeful to depressing at the snap of a kismet or two.

At the shop, Peter Blackstock, senior editor at Grove Press in New York, tells me his assigned author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, has just this week won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He’s elated and I’m thrilled to meet such a literary personage. Moments later, I’m informed via terse memo that I can no longer park my car in the store’s adjacent parking lot because the new owner just doesn’t want to lease space to merchants. One second I’m elated, the next moment I’m handed a new stressful challenge to find fresh parking digs. The peculiar thing is, on a cosmic scale, each of these contiguous events means absolutely nothing to much of anybody–that is, whether I’m happy or sad is nobody’s concern. But my body does not know the difference between meaningful and meaninglessness.

In a matter of seconds, I’m up and about, then down and out.

How do I shake off this tiger whose tail is super-glued to my hand, without getting disoriented about life?

Later on, a customer brings two enormous 19th-century illustrated books for appraisal. I am delighted to see the books and equally delighted to see the customer, with whom I graduated from school a century ago–or so it seems. But while examining the books, a sour-demeanor visitor enters and loudly proclaims–as if nobody else is conversing–that the Birmingham Arts Journal has made a serious mistake that must be corrected immediately before the Earth can continue rotating. As a Journal editor, I try to explain how publishing works, and how the problem can be addressed, while at the same time I attempt to keep the customer happy and engaged in the appraisal process. The visitor closes his mouth but hovers within inches of my customer and me while I explain the books and their values.

Again, up and about, down and out, repeat themselves. All I can do is hang on to the tail, since the entire day goes on like this.

Down and out. Up and about.

I recall an old Madison Avenue advertising tale about the marketing of a hair shampoo. One Don Draper-type, searching for a way to increase sales, suggests that the instructions on each bottle be changed from, “Lather. Rinse Thoroughly.” to “Lather. Rinse Thoroughly. Repeat.” Turns out that, once implemented, these instructions helped double the sales of shampoo, and Draper lived to carouse another day.

Where are my instructions for getting through the up-and-down days?

“When Down and Out, Get Up and About. Repeat.”

In other words, there will forever be hills and valleys. I just have to keep in mind that over each hill there will be valleys, above each valley there will be hills. Navigating them is just part of each fractured day of a life well lived.

Even if life isn’t always that well-lived, pretending that it is can go a long way


© Jim Reed 2016 A.D.




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The Sing-Song Woman Under the Rainbow

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The stilled afternoon breeze of Southside Birmingham is broken by a new sound.

Somewhere off in the distance you can hear something not quite like the other sounds of the street.

Not a car un-muffled, not a dog howling against the city’s loneliness, not a baby crying cribless.

It’s another sound, and it’s coming closer.

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high.

There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby…

It’s becoming clear now. It’s a flat, rounded-tone voice, and it’s very precise and methodical.

It’s the sing-song woman.

She walks by a time or two a day, singing a different song each time.

If you knew Suzie like I know Suzie

Oh, oh, oh what a gal…

The songs are all old. But they are the songs you don’t easily forget once you’ve heard them clearly. The phrases are simple and clever, the thoughts are easy to grasp, and the voices that used to record them were not drowned out by highly amplified instruments and heavy beats.

Singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain.

What a glorious feeling I’m happy again…

At first when you hear the sing-song woman, you feel your day has been intruded upon. The song is loud, and you can’t ignore it and go on about your work. The sing-song woman knows most of the words correctly, and you even learn a few more by listening to her.

 That old black magic has me in its spell,

That old black magic that you weave so well…

There she is, now. Her head is down. She dresses plainly and walks slumped and straight ahead. But her voice sounds out huskily and methodically.

First you say you will and then you won’t,

And then you say you do and then you don’t,

You’re undecided now, so what are you gonna do?

I don’t know anything about the sing-song woman. She’s like many others who wander around Southside Birmingham going no place in particular. Like many of the others, she doesn’t look around. But she doesn’t bother anybody, either.

I’m laughing at clouds so dark up above,

The sun’s in my heart and I’m ready for love.

The heart inside this weathered woman is still ticking. The spirit rises above her body and sings on its own:

Let the stormy clouds chase everyone from the place,

Come on with the rain, I’ve a smile on my face.

Whatever life has meted out to this Southside denizen, there’s something inside her that won’t stay down. She’s a bag lady whose bag is a wonderful lyric.

I’ll walk down the lane with a happy refrain,

And singin’ just singin’ in the rain.

Is this woman’s entire life lived in an old tune written by long-forgotten composer?

Why am I smilin’ and why do I sing?

Why does December seem sunny as Spring?

Why do I get up each morning to start

Happy and het up with joy in my heart?

Why is each new task a trifle to do?

Because I am living a life full of you.

The lover to whom she sings the song is not with her on these daily treks. Perhaps her lover no longer lives. Perhaps her lover never was.

But it is obvious that to the sing-song woman, her lover is as real as her song in the afternoon breeze

© Jim Reed 2016 A.D.




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Curvature of the Attention Span

I am peering into the crowds of people surrounding me, somewhat lamenting the lost art of gazing into each others’ eyes.

In days far gone, people used to make momentary eye contact in passing, just long enough for a nod of recognition, a glimpse of friendliness, a symbol of trust and well-being.

Now, I am a stranger in a strange land.

No-one in sight is observing the world around them. They are all absorbed, focused, imbedded, part of the electronic devices they hold in their palms. Ignoring partners and friends, they are always Somewhere Else. Their bowed heads and bent spines pave the way for future professionals to minister unto them…chiropractors, orthopaedic surgeons, physical therapists, masseuses, masseurs, all will benefit from these aging technolusters who wonder how they became prematurely stooped, their thumbs arthritic, their distance vision awry, their observational powers limited by metal and plastic blinders.

Rooms full of people who are Somewhere Else. Stadiums of people who are Not Quite Here. Families filled with relatives all gazing navelward.

As I say, I am a stranger in a strange land, grateful for occasional moments when I meet other strangers who for some mysterious reason are not wedded to their palms, strangers who, like me, wish to engage and share and laugh with each other instead of laughing into a virtual unreality on a tiny screen.

Where do I find the happiness, the inspiration I seek, in a world of people who have gone away?

Well, it’s all there. All I have to do is what every artist, every writer, every poet has always done: Look around and examine everything that everybody else is ignoring.

The fact that pod people are self-absorbed leaves the rest of the world unobstructed for those of us who like to NOTICE. It’s actually kind of nice, being alone in a world full of people. I get all the time I need to peruse and browse and…NOTICE.

While much of the populace is busy text-shaming strangers, gossiping aimlessly with imaginary friends,  conducting snarky conversations about nothing of any particular importance, expressing opinions they’ve cut and pasted from others’ opinions…I get to have all the fun. 

Thanks, you behemoth media empire, thanks. You’ve freed up my time to observe more, write more, share more. You have provided me with my own space, space that is filled with actual people who are much larger than tiny screens and limited-character diatribes.

I get to see you as you are.

Do you ever see me as I am, I wonder

© Jim Reed 2016 A.D.




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Two Queues in the Villages of Birmingham

Listen to Jim’s podcast:  http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/twoqueuesinthevillage.mp3

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Two Queues in the Villages of Birmingham

These two snapshots keep queuing up in my mind lately, so I have to own up to the lessons they are attempting to teach me. I do not yet know what they mean, but they are begging to be set free. Here they are:

First queue: I am standing in line behind two women at the thrift store check-out counter. I forget the old maxim that states the short line is always the slowest. Now I remember.

These two customers are standing next to shopping carts piled head-high with dozens of items, mostly clothing and shoes and household goods. The patient and unapologetic clerk takes her time methodically examining each item, entering a price in the register, calling for help from above when something is not priced, removing hangers, carefully rolling everything into bunches to be stuffed into white plastic bags, which the women move to the side in a protected heap.

This is taking a long time and my impatience is beginning to rise up. But on this particular day I remind myself that I can either enjoy this experience or make myself miserable. I opt to relax and observe. The petite women are very happy with their purchases and seem proud of their trove. After a while they look at the total tab, pull out rolls of cash and pay for everything in full. They leave the shop, laden with goodies and heading for a waiting van.

The clerk begins totaling my purchases while I ask her what all that clothing at one time is all about. “They are sending everything to their families in Mexico,” she said, for the first time smiling.” “Oh,” I say, feeling a bit ashamed of myself for being fidgety.

I leave the shop, wondering what those families will feel when they receive all these super gifts, what their expressions will be like as they sport their new old togs in a village far away from this particular Alabama village.

Second queue. I am again in line behind two women whose carts are brimming with clothing and household stuff and baby items.  The male clerk is slowly handling each item, removing hangers, making ad hoc bargains for those unmarked, focusing on doing a proper job. The women are chatting merrily. The first in line pays the clerk and remains at the counter while her companion begins handing things to the cashier.

Suddenly loud, funky and fun music emanates from her purse as she gropes for wallet and phone. I look over her bent head at the first customer and we spontaneously grin at each other, which inspires me to start faking some dance moves. She starts undulating, too, and her friend is now multi-tasking, taking in the dance, counting her money and answering her call. We can hear the male voice at the other end of the line.

“Where are you?” he barks.

“At the Piggly Wiggly,” she answers, causing her, the other customer, the clerk and me to crack up while stifling our guffaws.

“How much you spending?” he snarls.

“Oh, nothing,” she grins.

The conversation is over. The dance is done. The chuckles are mollified. The merchandise is paid for. The women leave.

The clerk and I watch them leave, each of us making up the sequel to a story we will never actually see.

I pay up, lift my bags, wish the cashier a great weekend. He returns the salutations.

I head from this village to the next village, ready for the next adventure

© Jim Reed 2016 A.D.




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The Easter Egg the Easter Worm and Me

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The Easter Egg the Easter Worm and Me

There is a glistening, squiggly brown earthworm hiding just under the Easter egg I’m grabbing from the damp red clay near my grandparents’ home in Peterson, Alabama, this bright sunny Sunday in Alabama, circa 1946.

Suddenly, my zeal in finding more treasure than cousins and siblings is placed on hold. Standing frozen, clutching the aqua-dyed hard boiled condiment in one hand and a small hand-woven basket in the other, I squint at the alien creature and wonder what it will do, now that I’ve exposed it to a larger reality.

I am regarding the earthworm, but I wonder whether it is regarding me.

It curls and stretches and begins burrowing into a deeper earth, so I decide that it has no interest in me and my Easter egg.

Which end is front, which is back? How does it eat? How does it even see?

I can’t help pondering during this extended moment. I know something special has happened, but I cannot quite express what that something special is.

Suddenly, I become the worm and begin feeling the soft red clay sliding past my extended exterior. It is getting darker as I leave the sunshine behind and head for home. Is my family waiting for me to relate my adventure? How will I explain my excitement? How will I describe objects that I cannot name?

“Ma, this gigantic roundish object was on the ground, and I thought I would hide beneath it for a time, but suddenly these five pudgy pale pink worms came down from the sky and just missed squashing me. They lifted the big round thing up to the sky and disappeared!”

What will Ma say when I tell her this? Will she dismiss the whole thing as something I dreamed up? Will she curl around me and comfort me till I settle down? Can she actually see in the dark?

“Jimbo! C’mon over here and let’s count your eggs,” cousin Jerry yells. I snap out of my tiny worm world and run over to other relatives and family to continue the Easter egg hunt.

Later that night, Mother gives me permission to eat the aqua-colored egg. As I crack and peel away the shell, the soft shiny white surface reminds me of the shiny earthworm family I’ll never get to know.

I silently nibble on the egg and pay secret respects to the critters that surround my small world…the worms that may become fish bait, the fish that may become food, the egg itself that might have become a baby chick…and the worms that, a few decades down the road, may become the diners rather than the dined

© Jim Reed 2016 A.D.




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I’ll Never Forget the Day I Read a Book

I’ll Never Forget the Day I Read a Book

So…what is the first book you ever read?

What is the first book I ever read?

Allow me to crank up the Time Machine and get back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when books slowly insinuated themselves into my life.

First thing I do is SEE a book. It’s over there, just within reach of my chubby little uncoordinated fingers. I can roll just a quarter-roll in my crib—that’s all it takes to see this unfocused blur of colors and shapes on the cover. All I know how to do is experience the book, not knowing that it can be read and manipulated. So, I do what I know how to do: lick the cover and gnaw at the corners. It tastes different than those mashed-up things they are feeding me. It would be even tastier if I could bite off a piece and swallow it, but that comes later.

So, first I SEE a book. Then I TASTE it. Then I masticate a bit. Then, I lose concentration and fixate on a wiggly toy that is hanging above me. I’ll get back to the book later.

Next thing I know, I’m snuggled up to my mother’s chest, experiencing the words she is reading to me as they vibrate the side of my face. I can HEAR her voice with one ear. I can FEEL her voice with the other. And then I note that she is gently turning the pages, causing the colorful shapes and strange markings to shift each time. I can hear her inflections of warmth, suspense, happiness, as the pages drift by.

Before I know it, I’m sitting up in my own wobbly fashion and turning the pages—not necessarily one at a time, not necessarily in any order. But I am doing the book the way I know how to do it. And, now and then, I even taste it again. I’ve been known to rub a crayon onto the paper to add color and design.

Time flies and now I’m reciting a book to my mother and sister, pretending that I’m reading it as the pages pass, but actually I still don’t know how to read, I’m just feeding back what I’ve heard them read aloud so many times. They play along with the ruse.

Now, at last, I am picking out a word or two in preparation for enrolling in the first grade. I’m excited about the prospect of actually making my way through the words with some degree of understanding. And, amazingly, after a while I start to read big-lettered words on my own.

What is the first book I can read without assistance? Hard to tell, since the books at school are not the same books we have at home. I’m reading some in both places. But in class, I get to read a Dick and Jane and Sally story all the way through! When I become an author many years later, I am jealous of those who wrote this reader. Wouldn’t you like to be the writer whose works can be recited by heart by millions of school kids? “See Dick run. Run, Dick, run!”

In middle age, I discover the song that comedian Jimmy Durante co-wrote and performed with gusto:

 There’s one day that I recall, though it was years ago.

All my life I will remember it, I know.

I’ll never forget the day a read a book.

It was contagious, seventy pages.

There were pictures here and there,

So it wasn’t hard to bear,

The day I read a book.

It’s a shame I don’t recall the name of the book.

It wasn’t a history. I know because it had no plot.

It wasn’t a mystery, because nobody there got shot.

The day I read a book? I can’t remember when,

But one o’ these days, I’m gonna do it again.

(Listen to Jimmy sing it, at the end of this column.)

Just yesterday, a pleasant family enters the shop, looking around and remarking upon the variety of things to read. One young girl is just tagging along, so naturally she’s the one I try to engage in conversation: “What do you like to read?” I ask, hoping to introduce some titles to her. She performs a sly smile and doesn’t answer because, like so many other children I meet these days, she knows her avid parents will answer for her. “Oh, she doesn’t read,” her father says. I know what he’s saying, but I play dumb just to see what kind of response I’ll get: “You mean she doesn’t know how to read?” I ask sympathetically. She grins even more deeply, waiting for her parent’s punchline. “No she just doesn’t like to read.”

I get it now. This lass has found a way to rebel against her parents, assert her own identity, appear cool to other kids. Normally, I get to talk up a book enough to inspire someone like her to try it, but I know there’s no way this can happen when hovering but well-meaning parents are there to puppet-master her conversation.

So, I say what I always say whenever the situation calls for it: “Oh, too bad. Mark Twain once said that a person who does not read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”

This is aimed at no-one in particular. The girl gets the joke but continues to play dumb. The parents remain perplexed.

What will no doubt happen—I’ve see it often—is she will discover a spicy novel proffered by a friend and, in secret, read it voraciously, becoming hooked on reading despite herself. She will, in the tradition of all kids, hide this novel and this fact from her parents as long as she possibly can.

The cycle goes on.

And maybe one day she’ll hear an old Jimmy Durante song and get excited all over again

Here’s Jimmy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLOR8gKwyoo

© Jim Reed 2016 A.D.




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