Why reading is social rather than solitary

This is a guest post by Charlie, a reader, writer, history geek, amateur photographer, musician and web designer, who blogs about books over atThe Worm Hole and can be found on Twitter at @CarnelianValley.

The idea for this post came from Andrew’s own guest post about reading with his wife. The potential spin-off from it and the possibility of coming to a more general conclusion was compelling.

I count myself lucky (indeed I believe it a boon) to have a boyfriend who likes reading. We do not spend the same amount of time reading, as he is halfway towards his dream job and I am what he calls a “poor arse student”, but it is nevertheless a topic we can talk about together with equal enjoyment, especially when it’s about a book we’ve both read.

Now I’m no speed reader, and am both in awe and envy of those bloggers who are already at 50 books this year compared to my 18, but it’s my boyfriend’s reading that really blows me away. Like most people I get bored after a couple of hours of reading, and the need to take a break never fails to get me up and into the kitchen or onto the computer. Once he starts a book however, my boyfriend doesn’t stop, and if it’s a series – well the stereotypical idea of not seeing a boy for a few days because he is playing the latest video game, applies to my man and his reading. To my shock I’ve found myself telling someone to put their book away for a few minutes because we’re on holiday and should be spending time together. This, and yet we both believe that reading isn’t necessarily to be shunned when we’re together.

And that’s what’s important, that although reading is termed solitary, some of my best times on holiday have been when we’ve been sitting beside each other, each immersed in our own book. And in fact here reading becomes very social, because a laugh will make the other want to know what’s so funny, which often turns into reading pages out-loud, and so both benefit from the words. A couple of years ago we spent at least half of our holiday reading, and it was one of the best holidays so far. I remember the book I was reading, it was a very good book and the lessons and message in it will stay with me for a long time, but its effect has been improved because of how I associate it to that holiday.

Reading can be social, fact. Picture the couple in the car listening to an audiobook because reading text would cause travel sickness on the passenger side, and possible boredom without conversation on the driver’s side. Audiobooks in cars are popular and they enable people to not only productively use otherwise wasted hours, but to read the same book at the same time.

So many books demand discussion. Their themes are difficult to fully understand and appreciate without factoring in several points of view, and the questions they ask beg for the objectivity that comes with an unbiased debate. I remember once writing a review and saying that I absolutely had to pass the book on to someone else because I was aware that the complex nature meant I was missing out on a lot of things, and a different perspective could “unlock” them. In my head I was practically begging other bloggers to review it. In this case I was lucky, the publisher was generous with their review copies.

Then there is the unfortunate nature of the secondary school English Literature class, and indeed it is unfortunate because it puts so many people off reading. But what it demonstrates is that discussion of a novel between people of various backgrounds and cultures is what helps the book retain its importance, relevance, and fame. Without the social aspect of reading the classics, and without discussion, would they have lasted? Incidentally, we know that the whole point of book clubs is to have a discussion, to learn, to understand.

The conversations we have about books are not limited to the texts alone, and we can learn a lot about others by contemplating on how they viewed themes and their opinion of the characters. Discussing books can give us an insight into the personality of an acquaintance because of the uniqueness of every reading. Rather than setting us apart from each other it can develop our relationships with those around us. And just as there are a variety of books, so too are there a variety of ways they can help us.

With the Internet changing our lives and making communication easier, the social elements of reading are surely only going to continue to balance out the solitary, if not tips the scales. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, reading is social.

7 thoughts on “Why reading is social rather than solitary

  1. Completely agree!

    I have noticed this discussion a lot over the net, and I find reading incredibly social (how wondrous is it when you know you can sit in someone’s company not talking, reading a book etc.. and still feel comfortable), I spent hours talking about Young Adult Fiction with friends at the weekend. There are so many stories, genres, heroes, villains, conversations could go on forever.

    1. The conversations you can have are wonderful, aren’t they, and can lead on to more in-depth discussions about themes you can apply to the real world. I think it’s sad that we’re “supposed” to see reading as antisocial and causing separations, those who say such things tend to be on the side of not liking books anyway.

  2. When our children were younger, we listened to audio books together when traveling. Lemony Snicket saved us from more than a few bored brawls in the backseat and added to our shared family jokes, history and memories.

    1. That’s good to hear! And how great that they created memories for you all as a family; success story right there. Such a thing as reading together would help families today bond together, as there is so much talk of dysfunction in families where people are literally together but not sharing of spending time with each other.

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