For as long as I can remember, reading has been an intensely social activity for me. Even when I read alone in my room, I am engaging in conversations in my head with the characters and even the authors, but for me it doesn't stop there. I must talk books. When I read a book, I want to talk about the book with someone else who has shared that experience. Mind you, I don't want a book review: I loved that book! or I hated that book! I can decide those things myself, and I don't particularly want consensus.
I like to talk about what happened, what passages sang, what shocked me. I want to talk about the surprises. I need to talk about the endings. Fortunately, I have surrounded myself with many reading friends who are willing, even eager, to do just that. In some ways, our friendships are strengthened by that common activity.
The local library regularly offers a program called "Let's Talk About It." Every other week, a group meets to discuss a particular work centered around a common theme. The sessions are generally led from academic professionals, usually from colleges nearby. The one starting in February in Hickory has a Southern literature theme, beginning with Robert Morgan's Gap Creek and including Dori Sanders' Clover and one of Kaye Gibbons' novels. Even though I have read at least three of the five books, I'll read again, just to be fresh for the discussions.
This week, I stumbled across a recent article from the New York Times entitled, "The Book Club with Just One Member," which reminded me that everyone doesn't share this need of mine. For some readers, evidently, the experience is so intensely personal and private that discussion feels like an intrusion. I can respect the attitude, even though I don't fully understand it. I suppose it helps that I am confident enough with my own personal reading preferences that I don't feel defensive when someone else judges a book differently. I can listen to a dissenting opinion without having to counter it. (Well, not always.)
The only response to literature that really irks me is the one that sounds like this: I hate reading. It's such a waste of time. I don't know why I have to read this stupid book (story, poem, play). Of course, as an English instructor, I hear these irksome comments all too frequently; fortunately, I see them as a challenge, not a deterrent. "What didn't you like?" I might ask. "Let's talk about it."