Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Finding hope in gardens of spring _lowres

While waiting in the grocery line the other day, I picked up a copy of Southern Living from the magazine rack, flipped to the back page and began reading Rick Bragg’s essay in honor of Pat Conroy, the South Carolina novelist who died recently at age 70.

Halfway through, I glanced up from the page and realized that the line had moved on, leaving me a few feet from a register that had no one else in front of it. Luckily, there was no one behind me, so I hadn’t inconvenienced a fellow customer with my impromptu reading session.

This won’t be a column about the virtues of reading in line, but it felt good to lose myself in a length of prose, which is something I don’t do as often as I once did.

While visiting a college campus not long ago, I overheard a student ask her friend to recommend a good novel. “I don’t read novels, anymore,” the other student replied. “I’m too busy answering texts.”

I suppose I could cite this as some indictment against the shallowness of the young, but I admired the young woman’s honesty. She was simply admitting to a form of distraction that, truth be told, touches readers in all walks of life these days, not simply millennials.

I find that more of my own reading time is broken into a dry kindling of texts and emails, leaving less room for everything else.

We like to think of summer as a season when we reclaim our reading life, embracing what we want to read instead of what we have to.

One guilty pleasure on my nightstand is “Dimestore,” North Carolina novelist Lee Smith’s memoir of her 1950s childhood in the small mountain town of Grundy, Virginia. Lee says she learned how to populate her novels with characters while watching the customers in her father’s five-and-dime, a technique that seems plausible to those of us who remember visiting our own childhood dime stores.

I’m also reading “The Times of Our Lives,” Peggy Noonan’s collection of her best columns through the years. Noonan is best known as a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, but her graceful prose style promises pleasure to readers of any party.

“For a Little While,” new and selected short stories from Rick Bass, is on my summer reading list, too. Bass has an economy of expression that’s a perfect antidote, it seems, to our campaign season of loopy, long-winded talk.

I’ve just started “Tribe,” Sebastian Junger’s slender book about what we might learn from the we’re-all-in-this-together solidarity of those we send to war.

And I’ve also been dipping into “The Violet Hour,” Katie Roiphe’s recent survey of how several great writers confronted their own mortality.

That’s a lot of summer reading ahead of me. I’ll try not to do it in the grocery line.

Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.

Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.