What Are You Reading?

As any reader knows, one of the best questions to be asked is "What are you reading?" - at least under the right circumstances. On a plane or a bus, not so much. I'd rather be reading, thank you. But, when my students ask.... that's another animal entirely. Those times when I can share my enthusiasm for the written word outside of whatever book I've assigned them are golden. If I've done my job right to that point, it is those tiny moments that teach them about books more than the moment we finish discussing Book 6 of The Odyssey.

Yesterday, the entire 10th grade and their teachers went to a nearby camp for the day. There was swimming, blobbing, soccer, ultimate frisbee, battleball, eno-ing, and more. Also, after destroying some 15-year-old boys on the soccer field (slight overstatement), this old lady decided to sit down with a book. In that hour, I probably hand-sold the book I'm reading a dozen times. And friends, it is an easy book to sell.

First, I show them the "cover" of S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. The cover is actually a box/sleeve thing, but I start there because that is the name of the book: S. I remind them of who J. J. Abrams is (Lost, Felicity, Star Trek - which are, by the way, all things I have not watched), and their eyes light up a little.

Then, as I pull the physical book out of the black sleeve, I start to explain the concept. The idea for this book was J. J. Abrams' - Doug Dorst is the writer who brings it all to life. 

See, this book is called Ship of Theseus.

It's made to look like an old library book, down to the sticker on the spine and the aged pages inside. It is fiction, written by the fictional V. M. Straka. In S., it is the foundation of a grad student's research. The student, Eric, leaves the book outside his study carrel, and an undergraduate who works in the library, Jen, finds it, flips through it and his notes, and returns it to his carrel with a note penned inside:
Hey - I found your stuff while I was shelving. (Looks like you left in a hurry!) I read a few chapters and loved it. Felt bad about keeping the book from you, though, since you obviously need it for your work. Have to get my own copy! -Jen.
He writes back:
Here - If you liked it you should finish it. I need a break, anyway. (Leave it on the last shelf in the South stacks when you're finished.)
And thus begins a back and forth relationship in the margins of this book. Their marginalia pursues some serious scholarship questions as well as exchanging personal stories, and as their relationship develops, the mystery surrounding this book and its authorship does as well. There are codes, secrets, dangerous encounters (for both the characters in Ship of Theseus and for Jen and Eric), and lots of stuff inside the covers of this book (postcards, letters, photographs, etc...). S. is not so much a book as it is a reading experience. It is so clever and sharp, and I remain intrigued even though it is a literary type (political thriller-ish) I don't usually gravitate toward.

By the time I finish, students - all students - are fascinated. Their eyes are sparkling and they say things like, "I might actually have to read that book."

So, what am I reading? Come sit down next to me. I'll be glad to tell you all about it.

And I bet when I'm finished, you'll want to read it, too.

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