Lit Counts: Psst, Have You Read…? (Reflections on Book Sharing)

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By Jennifer Itell

Editor's Note: This is the first Lit Counts essay in a series in which readers and writers from our community express why they believe in supporting and elevating literary arts—the mission of Lighthouse Writers Workshop. The series will countdown toward Colorado Gives Day on December 4, the annual statewide fund drive for nonprofits. For 2018, Lighthouse has set a goal of $90,000, to support the continued growth of our literary programs. If you believe in the mission of Lighthouse, consider scheduling your contribution today

I went to my local library to pick up a book I’d put on reserve. In the book was the reserve ticket, which had the first few letters of my first name and the first few letters of my last. Tucked a little deeper in was the ticket of the last person who’d put the book on hold. I was going to toss it but then realized that I knew who the person was. She was a Lighthouse friend. I took a picture of our two reserve tickets together and messaged her. “Look,” I said, “we had a moment of connection via the Jeffco library!” Later, once I’d finished the book, we wrote back and forth a bit about our reactions to it.

It was my son’s first day of fifth grade, and I received a text message from the grandmother of one of my son’s friends. She’d read a book over the summer she thought I’d like, and she wanted to make sure we crossed paths at the school so she could hand it off to me. Her granddaughter and my son have been in school together since kindergarten, and once in a while we pass along books to each other. “If you like it,” she said, “give it to your mom.” She knows my mother is a reader too.

I read a mystery and didn’t entirely understand the ending. I’d picked the book up because of a blog written by another Lighthouse friend. I wrote her and said, “Hey, I loved that book you blogged about, but what did you think at the end when…” She wrote back and shared her interpretation of the mystery’s resolution.

On a walk recently, I was thinking about these types of interactions. I read a lot but haphazardly. I read books written by my writer friends, books I hear about on Colorado Public Radio, books recommended by librarians and bookstore staff, books that people—sometimes people I don’t know particularly well—hand off to me because they know I like reading.

Sometimes I love a book that falls into my hands and a new landscape opens before me. I’ll read the book then I’ll go on to read all the books by that author, right in a row. Other times, I don’t love a book someone’s lent me, don’t even like it enough to finish it, and I always find this awkward. I have to hand it back and say, “Well, to tell you the truth…”

Still, I’m glad for the loan or the recommendation. It’s a way of conversing with people, even though reading itself is a solo experience. But if I’m lucky, after I’ve finished, I can say to whomever sent it my way, “Yes, I loved it too!” Then we’ll talk about other books we each loved, and I’ll walk away with several more book titles that I hope to get to soon.

Jennifer Itell has been with Lighthouse in some capacity since its early days in the late 90s. She recalls eating pizza and folding newsletters in the Loft on Arapahoe Street, Lighthouse’s first Denver location. Over the years, she’s taught various fiction workshops, and she looks forward each summer to teaching at Lighthouse’s Grand Lake writing retreat. She writes both fiction and creative nonfiction, and her work is forthcoming or has been published in Witness, Crazyhorse, Colorado Review, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, The Normal School, Literary Mama, 5280, Redbook Magazine, StoryQuarterly, and Cimarron Review.