Monday, April 19, 2010

The Book Connection

Last night on the subway, a guy I politely pretended to ignore was very blatantly reading over my shoulder. I was reading on my nook and at first thought he was maybe just interested in seeing what it looked like. (Which is what I do to iPad  and Kindle people.) Then he kept reading, and I figured he, too, must be enjoying Impossible by Nancy Werlin. So, I let him keep reading without doing my usual passive-aggressive "shift and sigh" routine.

Another thought came to me. If this guy is anything like me, it's possible that he was simply searching for what I was reading, which can be hard to spot if you're unfamiliar with e-readers. The way music snobs turn up their noses at beats radiating from others' iPods, I scan subway cars, parks, and cafes for titles, and then (admittedly) I form an opinion on the reader of that title. The opinion is neither negative or positive; it just simply is. I assume people do the same thing to me. In fact, sometimes I secretly hope they do, depending on what I'm reading that day.

Once on the subway (this is where I do most of my reading), I pulled out Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. I was only in the second chapter, a dent had hardly been made. Across from me, a man was just finishing the same book. When he closed it, looking satisfied, he caught my eye (well, first he caught my book's eye), and we shared a knowing smile. It wasn't a big moment, but it was a moment. Made possible by a book.

Another time, maybe a year ago, I sat across from two people reading the same book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. If you haven't read it, I'll just say that it's a book that heavily uses other references - some fictional, some not. When the two across from me - a college-aged girl and a middle-aged man - realized they were reading the same book, they began discussing how they felt about the sometimes frustrating use of references. While I never, ever speak to people on the subway, I felt compelled to join in and say I had read the book a month prior, and then the three of us enjoyed a brief conversation on the merits of false footnotes.

Yet another moment made possible by books.

The thing with e-readers though, and I know this has been said before, is that you can no longer openly see what a person is reading. Thus, no judgments can be made, and no friendships can be formed. While I have on my nook books that I am not at all ashamed of - Impossible being one of them, and also The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Infinite Jest - I suspect that many book snobs use their e-readers for hiding the guilty pleasures. With the exception of the titles I mentioned above, and a few others, my nook is basically a tool for manuscripts and novels that I don't necessarily want to form a connection over. (I won't name any by name, but let's just say the words "sea monsters" and "vampires" may or may not appear in the titles.)

Now, I notice, that if what I'm reading strikes up a conversation at all, it's usually to ask me about the device itself. No one cares what I'm actually reading on that device. Call me old-fashioned, but I just can't see myself making the same type of connection over a piece of technology than I could over a tangible book. That's not to say I don't love my nook, but... I guess what I'm saying is, let more people read over your shoulders. If you're going to allow yourself to get lost in an e-book, it might be comforting to know that a real live person still could be willing to go with you.

6 comments:

  1. I haven't used an e-reader yet. I'm all for technolgy, but I just happen to LOVE the smell of books! That's weird, I know! Interesting post. Thanks.

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  2. Books will always have a tangible, special quality that E-readers don't. I haven't gone over to the E-reader side yet. Someday...

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  3. Something I have experienced with other people checking out my Kindle is that they want to play with it. I love showing it to them, but there are a lot of things on there. They have a whole knowledge base of what I like to read versus one book. Oh my!

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  4. Ha! Lisa, I agree with you. When people notice my Kindle they want to play with it as well. Then they get a good look of at least 10 of my most recent reads, not that I'm ashamed of the books I read or anything.

    I have had conversations about books I was reading (back in the old days, when I read paper books) but now I have more interest in the device than I had in any of the books that were conversation starters. Interesting.

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  5. I know exactly what you mean. I own a Kindle and people often ask me how I like it, but no one asks me how I like a particular book I’m reading on my Kindle since they don’t know what I’m reading.

    I had the most amazing experience when the last HARRY POTTER novel came out. My family and I were leaving for vacation the day that HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS was coming out in bookstores, in hardcover. I couldn’t pre-order it, since I wouldn’t be home when it would have been delivered, and I didn’t have time to buy it in a store before we were due at the airport. I was so disappointed that I wouldn’t have the novel in time to read it on a very long airplane ride. Well, after we got through security, we discovered that the airport bookstores had HUGE piles of the novel. We all bought a copy, got in line where we would eventually board the plane, and sat on the floor to dive into reading the last HARRY POTTER novel. We looked around, and lots of people were doing the same thing. It was a group experience! On the airplane, one of the stewards expanded the group experience. He was hilarious. As the plane was about to take off, he said over the loudspeaker, "OK, now let’s get this thing off the ground. All together now, 'Wingardium Leviosa'!" Then he came on the loudspeaker later on and said, "If you need anything...Well, don’t call me. I’m reading HARRY POTTER!" That trip was so much fun!

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  6. Great post, Sarah! I loved imagining you reading on a small device with someone looking over your shoulder, haha. And the story about you kind of forming a couple of momentary friendships via shared literary taste is heartwarming. Keep it up! :o)

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