Reading is a solitary activity. It’s no surprise that so many avid readers are introverts. You’re far more likely to find us curled up on our own with a good book than being the life and soul of the party. We’ve got our noses in our books every opportunity we get and sometimes we get so involved in what we’re reading that we don’t realise that we’re being spoken to.
We’re the ones sat in the waiting room who pull a novel out of our bag rather than start a conversation with someone else. You might even find us sneaking a few lines in while we’re queuing for the supermarket or – if the book’s a real page turner – while we’re walking down the street. But I wouldn’t advise that.
But there’s something about books that makes you want to share. When you’ve read a book, you want to talk to someone about it. Sometimes you have to talk about it. So this is when people who usually keep their heads down among strangers suddenly find themselves compelled to go up to people they’ve never met in their lives and talk about books.
A while ago, in a post on travelling with books, I wrote about finishing my copy of Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ on the plane home from Kefalonia. There was a woman on the same flight, two rows in front, 50 pages ahead. The moment I finished, I had to go up to her, a complete stranger who’d been inhabiting the same world as me for the last two hours, and talk to her about the book.
Because no matter what your everyday life might be, when you’re reading you’re inhabiting a different world, getting to know different people, and when you close the book you’re often desperate to talk to someone who has been in that same world and met those same characters.
This is why book clubs are so popular. You get together with a group of people to talk about a book you’ve all read, often over a glass of wine or some food. Like it or loathe it, everyone has something to say. It’s why so many people read book blogs and there are some great bloggers out there, sharing their favourite reads and writing about their reading habits. It means that even the most introverted bookworm can be social online.
If you’re a keen reader, chances are that you’ve got an ongoing and ever-changing list of ‘Books To Be Read’ in your head. They could be the books you always meant to read but never got round to, the ones on those ‘100 best books of all time’ lists; the books that look enticing in bookshops and libraries; the books your friends recommend; the books you read about on a blog or in the newspaper. The list gets longer and longer.
So when you see someone reading a book that looks interesting, you want to ask them about it. Over the summer the woman next to me on a crowded train was reading ‘Waiting for Sunrise’ by William Boyd. I had to ask what she thought about it – it was already on the pile of books I was planning on taking on holiday with me.
You don’t always feel like accosting the person sat next to you on the train and asking them about what they’re reading. But when you do, you never regret it. People who love books usually love talking about them.
Sometimes the other person in the carriage, that person by the window, hunched over their book, will look up and smile to themselves. You don’t know whether they’re smiling because they’ve also read the book or whether they just appreciate that people are talking about books.
People who love books are always interested in seeing what other people are reading. Even if you don’t feel like starting a conversation you can’t help yourself having a nose at what the people around you are reading. You crane your neck on the train, on the tube, on the sun lounger on holiday, in waiting rooms and cafés, trying to see what it is that someone is reading.
That’s why it’s so annoying when people are reading on Kindles or iPads. You can’t see what the book is! Where’s the sociability in that?
So come on, let’s talk about books.