A female teacher asked me to fetch a fifth-grade boy from the restroom he preferred not to leave. I know him as a quiet, stammering kid, a loner, indifferent to pleasing or displeasing others, usually with a book in his hands. In short, I identify with his plight as a public-school student. He was in the locked stall but sounded reasonable enough when I asked if anything was bothering him.
“No, I’m fine. I’m reading,” he said.
It seems his teacher wanted him to put down his book long enough to finish his math assignment. Impertinent, I know, but I pointed out that one builds character by occasionally indulging the demands of others. I suggested fifteen minutes of uninterrupted, academically un-coerced reading in the middle of the day was certainly a treat, one that I envied, but perhaps he ought to return to class and finish his math. Without an argument, he walked out of the stall holding a copy of The Last Olympian, the latest installment in Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” saga, much favored and obsessively reread by my younger sons.
“You’ve read all of them?”
“Yeah. Five times. I don’t like to stop reading when I get started.”
“Me too, but life gets in the way.”
“Yeah. They don’t even want us to read in the cafeteria. When we read we’re not eating fast enough.”
Two days before Christmas 1953, Groucho Marx wrote in a letter to Fred Allen:
“For Christmas I bought the cook a cookbook. She promptly fried it and we had it for dinner last night. It was the first decent meal we had in three weeks. From now on I’m going to buy all my food at the bookstore.”