Friday, June 26, 2015

Social reading

I grew up in a fortunate environment, surrounded by people who loved to read. My parents, my brothers, and all of my friends: all heavyweight readers. In elementary and middle school, I lacked close friends, so in high school, my newly-discovered joy was social reading. When someone recommends you read a book… or you reccomend they read a book… just so you can geek out about it together.

The first of these was probably the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. At the time that I first started reading him, I believe he had published book seven, Crown of Swords. All my new friends had already read to that point and some of them had had to re-read several as new ones came out. Each of them was impatient with the wait. I, newly exposed, was exuberant to be reading them. Most of my friends gave up on the series at about that point, saying they’d come back and read it when the series was complete, but I didn’t mind—gamely, I’d buy the next one and read it without a refresher, and I caught up.

I honestly didn’t understand why reading a book series you enjoyed was considered by so many to be work. I mean, you don’t go back and re-watch the first four seasons of a show when the fifth comes out, right? There’s a sixty-second blurb at the beginning of the first episode that explains where the last season ended, and we’re all back in the game.

At any rate, I read Wheel of Time, Ender’s Game, Ender’s Shadow, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Dark is Rising series, and The Rook (the list goes on, but those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head) in the spirit of “OMG you have to read this book!” Since then, I have recommended books I’ve discovered to my friends with mixed results. The Time Traveler’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry, and Rant—all books I deeply enjoyed—didn’t go over as well as I expected among my friends. This is, of course, fine. Everyone is completely entitled to his or her own taste. But I feel I must have spent my “OMG you have to read this book” capital, because since 2010 or so, it seems like I can’t get anyone to read anything I recommend.

Mindful of the fact that my last series of recommendations were met with lukewarm responses, I’ve kept my finger off the trigger when it comes to recommending books. In fact, I’ve only recommended three—Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters. I started with gentle nudging: “Hey, I think you might like these books.” I continued, weeks or months later, with equally gentle reminders. My volume got louder and louder until I finally offered to buy the first book for any of my friends who would read it. I succeeded in getting one of my friends to read the first book, and she absolutely loved it and couldn’t put it down, and we geeked out about it a little bit—but she never read the second book, or expressed any interest in doing so.

What the hell?

I know that everyone’s not only busy, but mentally and emotionally “occupied.” People are either not reading or they’re re-reading books they know they love, the same way you put on your favorite slippers.

I miss the days of social reading. I think that, like other things, when we’re stressed and tired we convince ourselves that reading is a chore. I wish I could re-show people that it’s really not; really, it’s an escape from the things that stress us out. Forget a chapter a night—a page a night is such a good winding down from the day. And, when we read the books our friends recommend, we have more things to talk about when we’re together; more lines of connection that are, frankly, becoming more and more scarce as the years go by and our roads diverge.

Just a thought. Happy reading, all!


Becky Munyon said...

Enjoy reading. That's a wonderful reminder. I used to social read with my sister, cause I didn't have any friends.
Daughter of Smoke and Bome is on my list, cause I think you recommended it. I see you mentioned The Rook. My sister recommended I read that one. I haven't gotten around to it yet. I should read it, cause she's gonna yell at me if I don't.

Elly Conley said...

What are you reading, Becky? ;)