Shannon Reed, WHY WE READ

Shannon Reed, WHY WE READ

Beloved writer, teacher, bibliophile, and Thurber Prize semifinalist Shannon Reed joins Zibby to talk about her whip-smart, hilarious collection, WHY WE READ: On Bookworms, Libraries, and Just One More Page Before Lights Out. Shannon describes her lifelong passion for reading, starting with her grandmother teaching her how to do it when she was just two. She also talks about the impact of her hearing impairment on her love of reading and the challenge of finding time to read (ha!). Finally, she hints at some potential future projects.


Zibby: Welcome, Shannon. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss why we read. It's something I think about all the time.

All the time, on bookworms, libraries, and just one more page before it lights out. Congrats.

Shannon: Thank you so much. I'm delighted to be here. Oh my

Zibby: gosh. I loved this book so much. I chuckled so many times. I dog eared, like, most of the pages. I was just like, yes this, yes that, underline, squiggly mark, I mean, everything was like, yes.

Shannon: You're my ideal reader, in other words. Thank you.

Zibby: I am another reader. The 13th step. Guide to how I choose a book. I mean, all of these things. Oh my gosh. Anyway. Okay. Tell listeners about the book. When did you decide to write it? Why did you decide to write it? And how would you describe it?

Shannon: Absolutely. I mean, I've been calling it my love letter to reading and to books, which I know is a little cliche, but honestly it is.

I just, I feel like if you're going to spend the time writing a book. Book, which is a very time consuming and very difficult thing. It should be something you feel passionate about, whether it's a story you want to tell, or, you know, I mean, almost always it is a story you want to tell. And the thing I felt most passionate about besides teaching, which was what my first book was about was reading.

I started reading when I was two years old. My grandmother taught me and it's been really a lifelong companion for me. I just never without a book, it's always been that way. Um, and when we first conceived of the book, when I was talking to my editor, it seemed like it was going to be sort of a series of essays about books that I've liked and books that I've taught and that kind of thing.

And as I wrote, it really turned into a memoir of essays about my own experience as a reader, which is what I think people are really connecting to, which is lovely.

Zibby: Yeah. So I actually wrote a memoir called Bookends, a memoir of love lost in literature and at the end, like you, I have like an eight page reading list of all the books and I had sprinkled them throughout and actually then I got feedback, and I don't know if you did, like, I thought this was supposed to be about the books. You don't go deep enough into any one book. Like where's the, where's the, Book report. I'm like, I'm not talking about any one specific book. I'm talking about like how books weave into my life and I am celebrating books, which is exactly what you're doing here.

Shannon: Exactly. Yeah. I have gotten a few people who are like, well, what about this book? You didn't write about this book. And I was kind of, I mean, they're, they're being friendly about it, but I do feel like. I only had 300 pages, there's 26 I can write about. I'll do a sequel, I'll do another one.

Zibby: One of the most clever things you did was when you say how to know if you're a character in such and such a book.

Can I just read this? Signs you may be a character in a popular children's book. Can I read it? It's so funny. Okay. Signs you may be a character in a popular children's book. You are a bear. If you wear clothing, your outfit is missing some key element, such as pants. You have severe impulse control issues, although you generally mean well.

If you are British, you have extremely small achievable dreams, like going to the sea or having a tasty snack. You would like a hug. You probably do not work. Surprisingly, this doesn't seem to be connected to the painlessness. But if you do have an occupation, you are either a teacher, a maid, or the driver of a large and complicated vehicle.

You spend more time with your best friend than any actual human adult has ever. This is my favorite one. That best friend takes up 80 percent less physical space than you. Oh my gosh. I was like totally laughing. This is so funny. Oh, I love it. So, when you were writing this and coming up with the different, um, categories like this, tell me about that.

Is this just stuff you've been thinking all along or did it just come out?

Shannon: Yeah, it sort of is. I think all of those are based on my own reading of that genre without necessarily being like a super fan of that genre, but appreciating it. So I taught preschool for four years, so I read a lot of children's books, and you know, kids want to hear the same.

I have another piece about this. Kids want to hear the same book over and over again. Hiding it. Yeah, I was like, we'll put it over here so that they can't read it. I really actually miss that, you know, my, my college students do not want to sit in a circle and have me read the same book to them anymore, which is sad, but having done that for four years, I really started to think about, like, why don't they have pants on?

Like, that's weird. Why are they always paired up so that one is enormous and one is very small? Why is that a trope? So I really just started thinking about the tropes and the different genres and just wanted to lovingly mock them, as I say in the book. In my own life, I only tease the things and people that I truly love and I tried to get at that in the book as well.

Zibby: Yeah, no, it was not mean spirited at all. It was very lovingly received and executed. You wrote in the book about your hearing, like your experience with hearing loss or hearing impairment and how that affected, perhaps, you even, you know, theorize about how much you loved reading as a result because you could take it, you could read it again, you didn't have to ask people to repeat it, you didn't ever feel less than, you know, and all that.

Talk a little bit more about that. I found that really compelling.

Shannon: Yeah. Thank you. Absolutely. So I was born hard of hearing. I have a hearing loss. Um, I now wear a hearing aid in each ear, but, uh, when I was a child, we knew I was hearing impaired, but we didn't, I was going to say, we didn't know that I needed hearing aids, but in all honesty, I don't know that I did need them until I was an adult.

It was, uh, sort of a gradual decrease in my hearing and I also grew up at a time, even though my family listened to me and was very loving, you know, kids were kind of like, shh, go away. Like, uh, yeah. So it was really hard to assert my individuality to people as a child, and just be like, I need you to say it louder. I need you to repeat it. I need you to look at me when you're talking to me. Even if I had had that understanding that that's what I needed, I don't know that anyone really would have been open to it, again, outside my own family and friends. And so reading became this extremely safe space for me. I could, as I, as you said, I say in the book, like, I can reread something until I understand it.

I never had to ask a book to speak up or, or say something again or turn towards me. It was just a really comfortable, natural way for me to get information. And I think at times, there was a gap between what I thought I was supposed to know from people telling me in school and in other places and what I actually did know and books felt like a stop gap to like get over that that hump a little bit to be able to be like okay I don't really understand what we were just talking about in terms of geography, but I can read this book about geography and then, okay, now I'm, I'm caught up, right?

I have this knowledge. A lot of people talk about books being comforting or a comfort read, but I think just reading itself was a comfort to me. It was such a way to get information that I didn't have any other form to do so.

Zibby: Well, I really appreciated it and I was recently on a panel with Angie Kim who wrote Happiness Falls and she came over from Seoul, Korea in middle school and couldn't speak the language and felt so much that she wasn't, she felt that people assumed she wasn't smart because she couldn't keep up.

Whereas intelligence, of course, as you well know, and exhibit in the book.

Shannon: Yeah.

Zibby: I think it's not related.

Shannon: Exactly right. I knew I was smart and I felt that I was being treated. This is all my life I felt like people are confused disability with it, with a lack of intelligence. And yeah, reading was definitely a way to, to, to.

Not just teach myself things, but to be like visibly intelligent, what intelligent looks like to us, which is nose in a book, always studying.

Zibby: Yep. Here, let me read a few more things that, Oh, I thought this was beautiful. Just to finish what we were saying about the hearing aids. You said, if I lose my hearing aids or if they break, I lose not only what I feel comfortable calling a gargantuan sum of money, but I also lose the ability to but also my ability to interact so called normally with the world, I'm plunged back into near silence.

My disability, held at bay and almost unnoticeable at times, comes roaring back. My difference is revealed. You linked that to wonder and all that. Anyway, I just thought that was so beautiful. Oh, uh, can I just read a couple of the signs you may be an adult character in YA fiction? Let me just do a couple of these.

You are dead. Your spouse is dead. You are dying. Your spouse is dying. You just don't get it. I'll stop there. Then you talk about, well, you make it really funny, of course, how what to do if somebody gives you a book that you don't want to read, or you don't think it's a good book for you. Tell me about that one.

Shannon: So one of the recurring themes in the book, I realized after I finished it, was that I don't being like, I don't like being told what to do. I don't like being given assignments. And that entire piece is in the form of a letter to some friend who has very kindly given me a book because it makes sense.

Shannon loves to read. She loves books. I'll give her this book that I've read and loved. She will also read and love it and then we can talk about it. And I just, I bristle. It's very unfair of me. People are just trying to be kind but I'm like, Uh, I don't want to have to read what you told me. Uh, uh, uh. Um, and in fact, I, I usually don't read the books.

It's really awful. They're all like, I carry them from apartment to house to apartment to house, but I still haven't actually read most of them.

Zibby: I confess that too. When I got remarried about seven, about seven years ago, my mother and best friend threw me a shower. This is before I started my podcast, so I guess it was before.

The shower was eight years. Anyway, the theme was bring Zibby, they knew how much I love to read. So like bring her a book as a gift for the shower, which is such a good idea. And everybody should do book showers because it filled my library and everybody hand wrote me a note inside. But then I was like, I kept looking and I was like, I know I should read those books.

Shannon: What do you think it is? Like, why do we not want to do it?

Zibby: I don't know. I don't know. And I'm like, I mean, it couldn't come more highly recommended. Somebody literally gave it to me. I don't know.

Shannon: People know you best.

Zibby: I know.

Shannon: But you, and I'm still like, eh, I'd rather just take this book off the library shelf.

Zibby: I don't know what it is. I don't know what it is either. It's embarrassing, but I'm glad you share it with me. You also have a thing, the five people you meet when you work in a bookstore. So I own a bookstore now, and this is hilarious, of course. You're so funny. Heard about a book on NPR and wants to purchase it, cannot remember anything about the book, except it might have a blue cover or maybe blue is in the title, or it could be blue, B L E W, or blow, B L O W, or, there goes my glasses, or bow, B O W.

Do you have that one? Oh my gosh. You're so funny. I, I'm like...

Shannon: that one probably comes from working in a library and having people, you know, be like, do you have the one that's about the dog? Probably, but I'm going to need more.

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Okay, last one that I'll read is. In writing this book, I've come to realize, perhaps the most important reason I've remained so, the act of reading makes me feel safe.

Not the book itself, paperback, hardcover, e, I truly do not care, but the exercise of running my eyes over the words, the translation from symbol into meaning, the direct, pleasant diction of the voice inside my head, the influx of information, the transport to other lives, I've had other identities in my life, which you talk about, and this is who you are.

You are a reader. It's amazing.

Shannon: Thank you. I mean, it's such a gift, right? It's just such a, I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, in Western Pennsylvania, and my parents were actually fantastic about reading, taking me to see places. We went all over the U. S. when I was a kid, but beyond that, my world was very sheltered in many ways, and books just gave me everything.

Everything from recipes, to an understanding of the cosmos, to like a spiritual life, like books, books opened the world to me.

Zibby: That's amazing. Are you going to do another sort of homage to a category as a book?

Shannon: You know, I, I think that I was just saying.

Zibby: Why we, why we eat?

Shannon: You know, someone was just saying to me, like, you need another Y title.

What's your third book? I have to say, like, I never actually, intended to write two memoirs in essay form that was not, like, I'm so happy. I'm happy with the book. I, I, if you had asked me five years ago, like, are you a memoirist? I would have been like, no, no, my MFA in creative writing is actually in fiction.

So I have, I have two thoughts. I actually do want to write another book, another memoir and essays actually about my hearing loss and being hearing. I, I think that I'd like to look into the science of it a little bit, the genetic background, how hearing impaired people, hard of hearing people are portrayed in culture and media, I think is really interesting.

So that's, That's one idea I'm kicking around. And I'm also, I've been working on a novel for several years. Yeah. It's set at a fine and performing arts summer camp in 1997. And it's just full of theater people and theater jokes and nineties fashion and music. And I would love to finish it. I think it would be a great read for people.

Zibby: Did you go to Interlochen or French woods or someplace like that? Yourself? Or are you just, or?

Shannon: I did. I worked at, I did not go, but I worked at a fine and performing arts camp for four summers, um, while I was also working on my BFA in theater in college. So I feel like that's, like, if it was on Broadway in the 90s, I know a lot about it.

I love theater. I love theater people. I love all those jokes. Um, so yeah.

Zibby: Oh, that sounds great.

Shannon: I'm going to have my crack at it.

Zibby: That sounds really good. Wow. Awesome. So cool. And I have to ask, because you are such a big reader, if there's anything that maybe You could recommend that was not already out in the mainstream or something.

Shannon: Oh boy. I, I mean, this is such a cliche, but I like to reread the Jane Austen series, you know, I mean, it's not a series, but the books that she wrote, but I would actually highly recommend reading the annotated versions of her books. It makes them like five times as long. I think the Emma is like this thick because one page is the actual text and the facing page.

Then it's like, Yeah. information about the time and the culture and the people and like what this word means and how it's different than what we say today. I just find that to be a super rich reading experience, especially if you already know Jane Austen and you're like, I've read all six novels twice, like what else is there for me?

It's another way of sort of engaging in the world of her work. So I really love those. And I've also been reading All the names they use for God by Anjali Sachdeva, who I believe that came out like two or three years ago. It's a short story collection, highly, highly praised when it came out, and I've been teaching it to my senior seminar in fiction class because we wanted to read A short story collection that nobody in the class had read yet, so we read that.

They're kind of magical realism, some strong female characters, but each story is really different. They're delightful. I would recommend that.

Zibby: Amazing. Yes, next time I need an even longer book. I have, I have just torn through. All the J nonsense. I will get the annotated version just to challenge myself that much more.

Shannon: Yeah, I would say like, if, if your version just went like, No, I don't want to do that. Like, as I always say with all reading, like, don't read it then.

Zibby: No, no, I love that you're reading it. That's so, you know, I feel like it's like a flex. I am reading the annotated version. I'm like, I'm like trying to get through, you know, essays about reading.

Shannon: I mean, I will say like, I, uh, take maybe a year to reach, read each one of those. So a week later I'm like, Oh, even your page is done. That was a different time in my life. Now I'm, uh, You know, reading a lot of student papers and don't have quite the brain span for that anymore.

Zibby: Are you finding it harder to pay attention with like, I don't know, things in the news or just like age or are there times when you find it really hard to read?

Grief? I don't know.

Shannon: Yeah, I do. My students and I talk about this a lot. They really have trouble, you know, they're Gen Z and they have trouble, just devices have become so pervasive in their lives that to just say like, Oh, put your device away is, is kind of impractical. And my, Hearing aids are controlled through my phone.

So I also can't just like do a device free day. That's not possible for me. I don't know. I feel like a lot of it is, it's just kind of training yourself to do it in the same way that I train my students to be writers. As you sit down at the same time and you say to yourself, I'm going to write for 10 minutes.

That's all I'm doing. I'm writing for 10 minutes, and if I like it and I can keep going, fine, that's great. And if it's only 10 minutes, then at least I did 10 minutes. You can do the same with reading, you know? I'll be like, I, it's 4. 45, I wanted to start cooking dinner at 5, so I will do that. Read for 15 minutes and hey, if I get into it and it's suddenly 530 and dinner's late great but even if that doesn't happen 15 minutes is doable.

I can put my phone down for 15 minutes.

Zibby: I like that 445. I don't think I ever read then that's like not a reading time for me I have my go to times and that's but maybe I should try, you know set a little alarm.

Shannon: I mean, did you used to like carry a book with you everywhere and just read in line at the grocery store or, you know?

Zibby: I still carry a book with me everywhere. Yeah. I mean, I always, I always have a book in my bag. Um, yeah. Yeah. In fact, I finished, I had three books, no, I brought two books on an airplane with me home from Arizona last weekend. I was at the Tucson Book Festival and I, and I finished them both like thoroughly.

In fact, one was yours and I, and the second book. Anyway. And then they were like, put everything away. And for the first time in forever, like, I didn't have another one to pull out. And I was like, this is such a rookie move. Like, what on earth? Why didn't I have a third book here? Like, you know, I just, anyway, never going to be in that spot again.

Shannon: I feel like I have a New Yorker shoved in all my bags. So I don't mean to imply that the New Yorker is last resort, because I love reading the New Yorker. But like, if I do get through all the books, there's still like a 1996. Seven New Yorkers that I can have something to run my eyes over while the plane is landing, for sure.

Zibby: I was looking at like the drinks, I was looking at the drinks menu, you know, like, the card in front of me. I'm like, what can I read now? Oh my goodness. Well, Shannon, it's so nice to see you. to chat with you to find just connecting with other people who love reading so much and have the same level of reverence for it is, is always such a joy.

So, um, and I'm sure you will connect with countless others who of course are reading it. And so obviously love to read. And actually, I just, I just interviewed another woman this week, Stella Rasmus, who wrote an advice book about writing and writing well, and all of that. She also grew up hard of hearing and felt always a little bit, I don't know, on the outskirts and, you know, really turned to reading as well.

I don't know. I feel like you two would have a lot to talk about, but maybe that's just a weird thing to say.

Shannon: I love it. I love how the hearing, uh, hard of hearing people out there are like, I'm going to write books. That's what I'm going to do. Thank you so much. It was so lovely to talk with you and to just, um, share a love of reading.

I love it. Thank you.

Zibby: I love it too. Okay. Thanks. Bye bye.

Shannon Reed, WHY WE READ

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