January 12, 2020- Reading- Solitary or Social Activity?
During these months of cold winter weather, curling up with a book, a cozy blanket, and a cup of steaming coffee, or a glass of wine, is a reader's paradise. Even in the warmer weather, sitting on a lounge chair by the pool with a good book and an iced cold beverage, is pure delight.
While for the most part the act of reading is clearly something we do by ourselves, I believe the process of understanding and enjoying what we read, is often deepened by going outside of ourselves. How many times have you read an interesting tidbit and looked up from your book to share it with someone? Or finished a novel and immediately thought of a friend who you know would love the story? The popularity of Book Clubs confirms the desire we often have while reading, to process and discuss our thoughts and impressions with others.
Another way to process what we read, particularly non-fiction, is to actually mark up the text. Underlining or jotting thoughts in the margins. There are usually two distinct camps as far as this goes- those who would NEVER write in their books, and those who read with a pencil in their hand. I fall into the later. While marking text may appear to be a solitary endeavor, it can be decidedly social. For example, I am a big book-sharer. If a book moves me, I love to share it with someone who I think will be equally as moved. Having marked up the text through underlining or notes, I have provided that person with some insight into how I was processing the text. I love getting it back with their thoughts added to mine in the margins. Naturally I must skim back through the book looking for their ideas and insights which always helps to broaden my understanding. Although not physically together, we have read the book in a very social, interactive way.
Coming from a family of readers, books are often given as gifts. And the expectation is that on the inside cover, you always put the date, occasion, and perhaps a short note to the recipient. The book isn’t just an object. It becomes a social connection between two people. I remember as a child, I loved going through my grandfather’s books and peeking into the front covers to see where and when the book had made its way into his possession. I would sometimes ask about the person or occasion when he got it. A few of those books, when he passed away and his library was dissipated, ended up on my bookshelves. I love the feeling of continuity and connectedness that books can provide.
This year I got a nice pile of books as Holiday gifts. I have already read a couple and will enjoy digging into more of them over the next several months. One of my favorites is a book I got from my dad. Not because of the topic or the book itself, but because of the lengthy note he included. He told me which sections might be boring and could be skipped, and which chapters and pages are riveting. Clearly, he read the book and was moved by it. So much so that my siblings also got copies of the book (with most likely a detailed note as well) for Christmas.
So even though I will be reading the book alone, it will most definitely be a social activity, with my dad’s note next to me. I will be jotting down my thoughts and impressions and questions as I read. Can’t wait until I am done and can discuss my thoughts with him and my brother and sister.
As we get into 2020, I wish you happy, reading experiences- both solitary and social!