Tuesday, 22. December 2015 17:45
During these few days away (or during any trip), I usually wake up first, and I take my iPad to some common area where I can find coffee and a comfortable spot to read. In this hotel there is a nice lounge where the various guests gather for continental breakfast (which does not resemble the cuisine of any continent I know). this setting provides me (as an inveterate people watcher), with everything I could ask in a morning perch.
Though I enjoy looking at groupings and speculating upon languages and relations, my eye is always drawn to loners like me who are reading books. And I must confess that while I don’t eavesdrop on conversations, I will go out of my way to position myself to see what books these people are reading. It’s the same on airplanes. I’m not one who is comfortable making conversation with strangers, but when someone is reading a book, whether on paper or pad, if I can’t see the title I can’t resist asking what book it is.
What is it about reading that creates a kinship and an intimacy that I wouldn’t feel in any other circumstances? It would seem that reading in a room of conversing strangers would be the most isolating and anti-social position, yet I feel somewhat entitled to know what everyone in my vicinity is reading. To be fair, I am happy to share what I’m reading; in fact, I enjoy being asked. By individually settling down with books, it is as if we almost tacitly join a second community with deeper bonds than small talk.
There are (at least) three reasons why I want to know what people around me are reading. On the most superficial level, i suppose, I want to hear about potential books for my future. Even though I have a glut of books clogging my Goodreads “To Read” list and my ipad, I am always searching the horizon for that white whale of the next amazing book. Though I read many good books, I seldom come upon an AMAZING book that carries me from start to finish in giddy ecstasy along the way, books like Corelli,s Mandolin, The Night Circus, or Midnight’s Children. Though I have seldom found a great book in this casual sharing, my quest continues.
At a more fundamental level, I look at a person’s book to discover what kind of person is in the room with me. For a reader, there is no greater identifier than what someone else is reading, and exchanging titles is basically equivalent to dogs sniffing each others’ behinds (I must be clear here, I never sniff anyone’s behind). It will surprise no one to know that I’m pretty judgey about what I hear, lots of schlock out there. Usually I am disappointed when I hear about a new romance or anything Grisham, but occasionally I hear a few gems. I get excited when I hear someone reading a book that I have read and enjoyed. Likewise, I’m sensitive about the books I read for much the same reason. Other’s mothers encouraged them to wear clean underwear in case they get in an accident, my mother reminded me to have a good book with me.
Finally there is a sense of connection with the broader community of readers. I keep thinking of Whitman’s poem:
A NOISELESS, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.
Reaching out to find what is being read in my vicinity is a way of launching filament that invisibly connects me to a world of reading. I may never (and most likely won’t) speak to these readers, but they become part of my universe of understanding.
Anyway, I saw a woman reading this morning, and after clandestinely getting a cup of coffee in eyesight of her book, I discovered that she was reading the Bible. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed, not because it isn’t good that she was reading the Bible, but that connecting part of me would have preferred to see a novel, an AMAZING one.
Image : https://pixabay.com/en/spider-web-tree-branches-pattern-617769/