My Mom, the Reader

The phrase, 'You should read this article,' has become a running joke in our house.

One of my mother’s favorite rituals is reading the paper. Even in the digital age, she refuses to sacrifice her delivered, paper copy of The New York Times. Trying to separate her from her Sunday Times is like trying to take a grizzly cub away from its mama: proceed only if you wish to lose one of your limbs.

Every Saturday and Sunday morning, she sits at the table and diligently reads through each section, wearing a faded bathrobe and clutching her coffee mug like it’s the only thing keeping her alive. But even though she claims she can’t get by without her morning coffee, I think the intellectual stimulation of the morning paper gets her through the day more than the jolt of caffeine. Her eyes dart along the front page, the op-ed page, the sports section, Arts & Leisure, the Sunday Book Review, Week in Review…everything except the business section. The fire ignites in her eyes even when she’s still half-asleep, and I know she can’t wait to get to work – or if it’s her day off, call one of her sisters – and say, “Did you read that article in the Times today?”

But she’s not the type who will reference newspaper articles simply because she can, or because she wants to feel superior to people who don’t read the paper. She considers herself well-read, and one of her missions in life is to make everyone around her as well-read as she is.

I know this because of the newspaper clippings.

While she’s reading the paper, trying to talk to my mother is impossible. It’s the only time of her day when she’s not taking the lead in a conversation, the only time where instead of bursting with energy, her words are limited to monosyllabic grunts. But when she’s finished, the pen or the scissor comes out, and she circles or clips articles that she knows her family will find interesting.

She does this so often that the phrase “You should read this article” has become a running joke in our house.

“You should read this article about organic food by Michael Pollan,” she’ll say to my father, as though He-Who-Only-Shops-at-Trader Joe’s wouldn’t have read it anyway.

“Theresa, you should read this article about Rufus Wainwright. He wrote an opera!” she’ll tell me, and I’ll take the article and promise to read it later – and sometimes I do, if I’m not irrationally resentful about receiving “homework.”

As soon as my brother Luke is old enough to start applying for university and chooses a career path, I guarantee that his room will quickly fill with every article from the Times concerning the SATs, college life, and statistics about his top schools.

She has taken her love of sharing the Times with others to another level. Impressed with her success in occasionally convincing me and my dad to read the articles she’s selected for us, she now clips favorite pieces and mails them to her siblings and my grandmother. I doubt she’ll succeed in her secret attempt to sway my conservative-leaning relatives to turn liberal, but she’s not picky; she considers it a victory if her family members simply read the article and have a conversation with her about it.

Her desire to share knowledge with everyone around her is one of her best qualities. But she's never understood the concept of reading an easy book “for fun.” In fact, she’s gotten worse over the years.

“Mom,” I told her a few years ago after her attempt to brainwash Luke failed spectacularly, “Luke is twelve. It’s okay that he couldn’t finish The Grapes of Wrath. Really. I didn’t read it until my junior year, and I was in the honors class.”

“But he read Of Mice and Men on his own!” she insisted. “He likes Steinbeck! I don’t understand.”

She wouldn’t hear that Of Mice and Men was much shorter and accessible to a twelve-year-old than The Grapes of Wrath. She wouldn’t listen to me or my father’s pleas of “Let him read what he wants,” and she seemed personally insulted when Luke chose to read about Harry Potter or Percy Jackson instead of a poverty-stricken family living through the Dust Bowl.

Yes. She has snobbery issues when it comes to reading material. But I can’t deny the influence she’s had over me when it comes to reading. I think my love of Jane Austen is partly due to my mother reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time when she was pregnant with me. It all started in the womb.

I have even inherited some of my mother’s newspaper-clipping tendencies. Almost every week, I link to a Times article on my Facebook page, accompanied with a rant about New York City politics and educational policies.

I suppose the old saying is true: eventually, all people turn into their parents.

Looking at my mother, I could do a lot worse.


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