Sunday, March 13, 2011

Marital Reading Habits

I just received another of those gifts that every writer lives for: an email from a stranger, writing to tell me how much he or she enjoyed my novel. Whenever I get one of these, I always think of what Mark Twain once said: "I can live for two months on a good compliment."

This message, though, was a little different from the others. "This is the first book my wife and I read together, aloud to each other," the sender wrote, "and  it couldn't have been a better choice."

They read it to each other? Aloud? I tried to imagine a similar scene with my wife, Joanne. And as I did so, I felt a stab of guilt. I've worked out of my home for the past 24 years and, as a result, I not only have dinner with Joanne almost every night, we also often have both breakfast and lunch together. (And, yes, we still get along; in fact, we celebrated our 26th anniversary last month.) At breakfast and lunch, my nose is usually stuck in a book; hers, a newspaper or magazine.

Here's the problem: Joanne is a vocal reader. She loves to share what she reads. A health tip. An inspiring profile. A sad story. My reaction, I confess, is more impatience than interest. My attention span is so short that I must guard it jealously. Interruptions that take me away from a story I'm immersed in are just that: interruptions.

There's more. If I appear to be enjoying whatever I'm reading, Joanne will ask me to read a passage to her. Any guesses as to my response? If you guessed something along the lines of, "You can read it yourself when I'm finished," you win the Spot-the-Insensitive-Spouse award.

So when I received the email from the read-aloud couple, I envisioned a happy husband and wife, laughing and cuddling over a good book. I made a vow to respond more enthusiastically when Joanne reads something aloud to me. And I intend to keep that vow... right after I finish this page...