Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reader, Party of One?

Last month, Motoko Rich of The New York Times wrote about "The Book Club With Just One Member," contrasting those readers who are attracted to the social aspects of online forums and book clubs with those readers who view books as intensely personal and private. 

I had an initial knee jerk-response to some of the quotations, such as this one from "Laura Miller, a staff writer for Salon and the author of 'The Magician's Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia,' [who] speculated that it was the more bookish people who tended to fiercely guard their private reading worlds. Casual readers, by contrast, are drawn by the social aspects." 

Speaking as someone who misses the read-think-talk-think-talk-think-write pattern of studying literature at the university level, I was quite offended by the idea that only "casual" readers could appreciate discussing what they read with friends.  After a second reading, I realized that Miller was pointing out that someone who is a casual reader would find little appeal in reading a book without having some further interaction with other people--she is not discussing whether or not "bookish" people are capable of appreciating a discussion of literature.

Let me tell you something: it's an incredibly lonely world for someone who loves to read and has no friends within 100 miles who do so, as well.  When I told my friends about Robert Burns Day, they gave me the blank, unblinking stares of people who truly don't give a shit.  I've forced them to listen to my recantations of Lord George Byron, Christopher Marlowe, and Sylvia Plath, and while they patiently sit through my stories, they don't actually like them.  I'm faced with the decision to either not talk about one of my passions, or force that passion on people who think it's tedious and boring.

Enter bookclubs and online discussions and even literary blogs.  There is a whole world out there for those of us who feel the crushing solitude of reading a book and having no one with whom to talk about it.  I can read along with The A.V. Club or The Afterword and have thoughtful discourse with others who are in my same predicament.  I can join a bookclub and meet people whom I might otherwise never have run into and read books I might otherwise never have read and have discussions that might help me grow as a person.  Reading alone is all well and good, but there's definitely something to be said about reading with others.

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