February 4th, 2009

Silent Readers

You wouldn’t know it from the internet, but there are people out there who enjoy reading books and never talking about them. It’s not a secret; if a book falls out their bags, they’ll say, “Oh, there’s my book!” But that’s about all they’ll say. Some people just like to read–it’s what they do in transit, in waiting rooms, in bed before they fall asleep. They’re happy when they find a book they really like, and sorry when something that looked promising turns out to be bad. But they don’t really understand why I’m so interested in knowing *why*, and certainly not at such great length.

I’ve always been semi-opinionated, and the more time I spent around other readers, institutionally and socially, the more voluble I’ve become. It’s not that I think I’ve got it all right, but I sometimes maybe believe that I can express my opinions in a way that might interest someone else, and that then they might say something back that is interesting to me.

Sometimes that pans out and sometimes it doesn’t, but what with my lack of television or car troubles, what others are reading is my go-to question during cocktail party/dinner party/waiting room lulls. And that’s how I know about the silent readers; they tell me a title and then fall silent again. Sometimes they volunteer that it’s pretty good, or sort of boring. Sometimes they say where they bought it; sometimes they ask me what I’m reading.

With people I know a little, I can be pushy, asking the genre, what it’s about, where they heard about it (always a favourite question of mine). But sometimes you can just tell, however happily this person is reading his or her book, however knowledgeable s/he is about the material, it’s just gonna be a non-starter as a conversation.

It shocks me every time, but I’m pretty sure it’s true: many astute readers don’t know who published the book they are reading, or what year it came out or where the author is from. They haven’t read the reviews and they never hear about the prizes. I think, for these readers, books iare a personal space, a private interaction, and the astute reading goes on while the reader’s nose is actually in the book, not in the conversation afterwards. To live in the world of the characters and settings, to experience the story (fictional or not), without analysis but with empathy–that’s a really pure form of reading, is it not?

I’m always excited when I look up from a book and realize I was reading like that–without (much of) my own consciousness because I was inhabiting the characters. It doesn’t happen very often, and when it does I usually eventually step back and try to figure out how the author did that, because I am a writer and want to know how to do everything. And, because I am a social writer, I go find out other people’s opinions and see if they know why that book is so good.

I love doing that; if I had no one to talk books with, I’d be miserable. But that silent part of reading is pretty amazing. When I worked in bookstores and libraries, it used to make me crazy that people came in looking for books and couldn’t tell me the author’s name, only the main character’s…but now that I think about it, isn’t that exactly what an author wants?

Some years later / by the soda coolerator

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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