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Salem Is Reading: Share your summer book review

Salem is Reading: Share your summer book review.

“What book are you reading?”

This question can bridge gulfs between people who never guessed they’d have something in common. It can turn routine business into a personal encounter.

This summer, it has made partners of two very different people: Anna Peterson, Salem mayor and community activist, and 17-year-old Jazmin Cruz, a teen whose dreams are undaunted by tough circumstances.

Peterson, for the record, loves books that fuel her travel dreams. Cruz favors fantasy and romance. Together they’re reaching out, from city hall to Cherriots buses, to celebrate reading and get readers talking.

Birth of an idea

The project started on a Hawaiian beach in early June, when the mayor was relaxing with a book.

“You know how your mind clears for a minute, and something pops in?” she recalled recently. Then and there, she decided to change her email signature to:

“What book are you reading?

The results surprised even Peterson. An email about a park ribbon cutting came back with recommendations for books on economics, history and philosophy. An exchange on the proposed third bridge prompted recommendations for two literary classics.

“It’s amazing how much people are reading,” Peterson said. “I deal with boards, councils and people at the state … We finish state fair business, then talk about books. It’s only a line or two, but it’s like a personal conversation.”

Two readers connect

Enter Cruz, a senior at South Salem High. Her dad, a former minister, has been in prison since Cruz was 11. Her mom is too ill to work. Cruz and her four brothers have slid from middle class to barely getting by. But her hopes for the future and her love of reading seem undimmed.

Peterson had been the girl’s mentor since spring. Their outings have included dining out and visiting a mall book store.

“We talked about my dreams and my struggles, and I asked questions about her job,” said Cruz recently at the mayor’s office. “She inspires me to get where I want to be.”

Peterson reached over and patted Cruz’s hand. “She is mentoring me,” responded the mayor. “She walks the talk. She is an avid reader. She sees the connection between applying herself and reaching her dreams.”

So Peterson asked Cruz to take her idea from email signature to an all-out effort, “Read and Write Me.” The student is seeking short book reviews via social media. She’ll track the responses for eventual posting on the Salem Public Library website.

Cruz and the mayor read at the Salem Art Fair & Festival library tent. Cruz talks up the project to fellow teens and members of her church. She encourages Spanish-speakers to get acquainted with the library and its collection of books in many languages.

Riding the bus to work, she asks, “ ‘Do you like reading? Here’s my card.’ I’m not a shy person,” Cruz said.

The planned online reviews may not be as intimate as curling up with a book and a cup of tea — Cruz’s favorite combination. But mayor and mentee hope to encourage Salem folks to explore some new cultures, new ideas and new genres by summer’s end, then tell the community what they think.

Share your summer book review

Jazmin Cruz is compiling short reviews for the “Read and Write Me” project through the end of August. To take part, email SalemIsReading@gmail.com with this information:

• First and last name and age
• Email address
• Book title, author, genre
• What did you like or dislike about the book?
• Who do you recommend this book to?
• Any other opinions about the book?

Barbara Curtin is reading a memoir about Down syndrome, “The Shape of the Eye” by George Estreich. Reach her at bcurtin@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6699 or www.twitter.com/BarbaraCurtin