How reading can bridge the social divide
January 12, 2014 | 4:28 pm
Australian website Momentum Books has just shared a post listing “Nine reasons that being a book loving shut-in is better than being a social butterfly.” And while it’s always good to see quiet solitary reading defended, there are also plenty of reasons why reading can actually help your social life. And why ereading helps even more. And anyway, finger-wagging and us-and-them thinking isn’t always that’s positive. So let’s go through the list.
Reason 1 deals with the nasty accidents and spillages that can happen in a bar “you only went to because your friends made you.” Well, what about all the fascinating conversations and even relationships that may have started because some stranger noticed what you were reading? Or knocked down, or spilt onto, your book? And if compulsion is the issue, what about when you’re stuck trying to finish the awful book that you only started because your friends made you?
Which leads to Reason 2, that “Books have riveting dialogue, real life just has awkward conversations.” Well if real life had no riveting dialog, we wouldn’t have Runyonesque. And if books always had it, we wouldn’t have Kafkaesque or Pinteresque. Sometimes the best dialog is taken straight from the streets, or even the bars.
Reason 3 is the comfort of your own chair. “You don’t want to gamble with the comfort of your buttocks.” Alas, long spells of solitary reading can lead to all the ills that couch potatoes are heir to, including, sadly, piles. You do need to get out in the sun and on the floor occasionally. Mens sano in corpore sana. Why not just take the book to the park or the beach instead? Reading is one of the few productive exercises you can do while sunbathing. And ereading on smartphones or ereaders makes reading on the move and in the open that much more feasible and spontaneous.
Reason 4 is the low cost of books versus bar tabs. Well, depends on your drinking habits. In Hungary at least, I can get five drinks for the price of one typical paperback. And reading in public will help you stretch the drinks. And book cafes are often some of the cheapest places to hang out in town.
Reason 5 is fashion choices. Yes, you can wear whatever you want at home to read – though don’t stay underdressed in a cold room for long periods of bookbound immobility. But who didn’t look better in public when accessorized with a good book? Or even a Kindle?
Reason 6 is the journey home after partying. But what better time to read a book? Or even more convenient, an ebook on your phone? That’s the ticket to keeping awake on the last train home.
Reason 7 is the compulsion factor again: “you can stop reading whenever you want, whereas people will force you to stay out longer than you planned for ‘one more drink’.” Well, what about that compulsive unputdownable volume we just can’t leave off reading until we find out what happens next? I’m sure we’ve all cursed them at times.
Reason 8 is that “you spend your entire time doing the thing you love.” What if you love just talking to people? Grist to the mill of many writers, I know, let alone readers.
Reason 9 is that: “Social butterflies create a lot of pollution with all the transport and power they use. So book loving shut-ins are essentially saving the world.” But what about the trees? Think of the trees. Every time you open a book, God mourns a tree. Or several. Not to mention said trees’ lost capacity to absorb greenhouse gases, and the cost in carbon credits of printing and distributing them. And the power soaked up by burning your home reading lamp, or even charging your Kindle. So don’t be so environmentally holier-than-thou if you’re stuck at home with a good wad of printed cellulose.
Finally, the last and biggest counter-argument to this whole dichotomy? Why hide your reading? Don’t be afraid to take it out in public. If you don’t work on the assumption that you’re leaving your mind at home, then perhaps your conversations will be more intelligent, and rewarding.