A simple message: Just read

In our home, the phrase, "What are you reading?" is a term of endearment. When my husband asks me that question, he's looking for a conversation — and I can count on him to be an engaged listener.

We've always been avid readers; we actually met in a bookstore "… or was it a library? I recall lots of books on shelves, but I was smitten, so the details are a little vague.

A few months ago, when asked, I indicated I was reading the "Geriatric Pocket Doc" (University of California, Irvine). My always-tells-it-like-he-sees-it husband was somewhat skeptical about that particular choice. For the record, the book contains the signs and symptoms of common medical conditions, and it's a handy reference. I like it — and I keep it nearby to this day. That said, I do prefer — when I get his tender query, "Reading anything good?" — to respond with "a Hemingway classic," or maybe, "I'm reading the book that's been atop the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list for 22 weeks."

Reading opens the door to give-and-take discussion, and a little thoughtful sparring. Right now, I'm immersed in "In the Garden of the Beasts," a sobering, unnerving depiction of Nazi Germany. I landed on it by serendipity — it turns out my husband had already read it. We had an intense conversation about that book. It was exhilarating. That's what books (and talking about them) should do — excite us, stretch our cognitive boundaries, make us better at interpreting life.

Think of it like this — you don't have to read a book on "improving memory," just read —newspapers, magazines, whatever works for you. Even the labels on packages of processed foods can make good reading.

There's a book both my husband and I read in the last year we'd like to recommend. It's called "A Miracle Every March." Locate it, enjoy it — and then let's talk.

It's by a local author who happens to be our 89-year-old friend and neighbor, Gail Myers. His book is an insightful, whimsical story of the people in a poverty-entrenched mountain village in Mexico. As one reviewer (www.amazon.com) relates, it's "a wise and wonderful jewel of a story." If you want a personal preview, he will read from the book from 3 to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 18, at the Jacksonville library.

I have never known an author in the way I know Gail Myers. I've read his book twice — in hard back and e-book form. It's delightful. This author not only writes authentically and with heart, he lives his life in the same way. He is a treasure of a man. Gail is a Ph.D. scholar, a former college president and a photographer-journalist. My husband refers to him as the "Renaissance man" and "someone who shows us all how to age more gracefully."

Gail plays a mean C-melody saxophone, cooks and bakes like a gourmet and throws quite an annual 12th Night Party with his dearest friend, Fidi. She, too, is an author and musician — and his college classmate from 50 years ago. They reunited a dozen years ago through an unexpected exchange of their published materials. Just imagine their conversations.

I am completely smitten. As will you be when you join us on the 18th.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.

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