Reading can be doubly isolating. First, it is inherently a solitary practice. But there is also the secondary isolation that comes from reading’s cultural marginalization: the difficulty of finding people who not only read as you do, but read what you do. I think most serious readers have a desire to discuss what they’ve read with others, but those others can be so hard to find. The internet has been a boon for this, but I think we also know that online discussion doesn’t compare to in-person discussion.I would like to make a case for social reading. A lot of people seem to view picking up a book in a social context as exclusionary, or even rude. Beyond the simple remedy of reading aloud, or listening to an audiobook as a group, reading can also be a social activity. Here is the radical premise:
It is possible, perhaps even desirable, to read quietly to yourself in a room in which other people are reading, and to feel like you are spending quality time with those people.
That's right, I am talking about reading as a social activity. Imagine spending a few hours at a friend's house, reading on comfortable furniture and occasionally going for more snacks. One friend chuckles as she hits a particularly delectable passage. Another is completely absorbed in her book, which she is reading on her e-reader. A third has finished his book and moved on to one of his backups. The predominating sounds are pages turning and cats purring (it's my fantasy, so there are cats).
After some time has passed, reading time may end in favor of games and conversation. For some people, it may not end until they prepare to go home. Far be it from me to interrupt someone who is nearing the end of their book. At some point, the readers may wish to discuss books in a spoiler-free manner. This kind of gathering--a shortened version of which could be held at a local coffee shop--would counter both kinds of isolation described above. Not only does it provide a built-in discussion group, but when you see friends reading (and enjoying) books, it acts as a forum for recommendation.
At my library, one of my co-workers hosts a book discussion group in which she previews upcoming titles and each member comes prepared to talk about the books they've been reading. A "book discussion" doesn't necessarily mean that all present have read the same book. At many of the personal book club meetings I've attended, there are usually several people who haven't read or finished the assigned book, which somewhat defeats the purpose of meeting to discuss it. Why not have a gathering in which everyone gets to read what they want to read, and discuss it if they feel like talking about it?
Suggested guidelines for social reading (conceived with assistance from friends on Twitter):
- Limit reading aloud, even if the passages are the best ever. Mark them to share later.
- Avoid talking. Most people like to read in relative quiet.
- No spoilers during discussion time.
- Bring a backup book or three.
- Turn off the wireless capability.