At a party recently, I happened upon a guest who was being admonished for the T-shirt she was wearing. A bunny sat reading a book with the caption, “Books are like people, except interesting.”
As a “people” I can see why the other guest was, if not offended, at least guiding the book-loving guest toward social norms. Announcing at a party that people are boring isn’t the best way to “make friends and influence people,” as Dale Carnegie teaches.
As a book lover, I also have a certain understanding of the message. For me, the T-shirt simply said, “I love to read.” That’s trigger for my interest and this guest and I had a nice, long discussion on the types of books we read. I found her interesting. Did she find me interesting? I can’t say.
But I do know that going to a party and talking about books and some of my other favorites subjects like history and politics make me “serious” and, I have accepted by extension, boring. Once while expounding on a favorite subject at two in the morning at Bob Evans after the bars closed, I looked up and saw a pleading look on my companion’s face – “shut up” it said. I did.
So we book readers sometimes find light conversation boring and in return they find our book and study interests boring. We don’t all share the same interests, of course. But those who continually read generally have some topic that they want to process in conversation.
One person’s boring is another person’s interesting.
Books are people too
What’s interesting to analyze here is the statement that books are more interesting than people when it’s people that write books.
This subject has come to mind to me in our “FaceyTweet” (term stolen from a recent birthday card) world. Much of our communication today is brief and disconnected from a larger topic or conversation. People still read books which are, in contrast, extended stories, extended conversations.
Recently I discovered a new author and environmentalist and am reading a book of his essays. I’m on page 284 and feel a strong connection with the author and am highly inspired both by his ideas and writing style. I might find this same connection in the people around me, but it can take awhile to engage others in a way to get to this type of conversation.
Yet occasionally I engage new faces in long conversations, especially when there’s an interest in common or that person can educate me on his/her interests. Those around generally find it odd and I have the socially unacceptable feeling of hogging a person’s time.
Book readers, I propose, don’t dislike people. They just prefer people who can engage in extended, cogent conversations on a shared area of interest. As with all people, book lovers are looking for connection even though it may seem otherwise when they are ignoring you behind a book or a T-shirt that suggests they’d rather be reading a book.
When young, my interests drove me to read material way past my education level but I slogged through them because of my need to understand. Authoritarian states and cults were of great interest to me both then and now. In 1983, my 16-year old lunch companions couldn’t understand why I was reading a book titled 1984. So I hid a lot of what I read. In a way, I still do.
Possibly my secret reading and interest in cults have a connection – the social environment, at least in this country, responds quite negatively to introversion and independent study, regardless of the number of degrees we confer upon the populace.
In college, I had a friend who said I was her “intellectual friend.” Wouldn’t everyone in college be an intellectual friend?
Had I been born male, I think I wouldn’t have had to read secretly. Young girls reading about cults and thought control in Mao’s China is quite odd, at least where and when I was raised. As a boy it might have been considered odd too, but I seem to recall boys reading a lot about war history and these topics might have been considered extensions of that interest.
Talking to book people
Talking to book people can be tricky because you don’t know in what area topics of interest lie. However, book people in my experience (which is definitely biased), have lots of interests as one book leads to another.
Book people, in talking about books, are generally talking about ideas. Idea conversations seem far removed from the here and now which is why some don’t like this type of conversation. You’re talking about something that’s not “real.”
Books are written by people so book lovers do find people interesting. A better T-shirt might be “What are you reading?” Then book lovers and party goers with something in common can share interesting conversation.