Remember, It's A Book - It's Not A Bumper Sticker Or A T-shirt

READ STREET

July 19, 2009|By David Rosenthal | David Rosenthal,david.rosenthal@baltsun.com

Earlier this year, I listed 10 Reasons to Hate the Kindles, including this one on the downside of reading e-books in public: Beautiful Russian ballerinas won't introduce themselves upon noticing your copy of Secrets of Nijinsky.

As someone who often carries a book around Baltimore, the inwardness and anonymity of the e-book reading experience seems very odd. I don't mean that we should brandish the latest "hot" book in public like some designer handbag. "Look, the new Pynchon!" It's sad if books become just another way of broadcasting our feelings, like T-shirts or bumper stickers.

We should approach books with intellectual honesty and not use them simply as a signal for companionship and conversation. But I'm happy to chat about a book with fellow readers - strangers even. Consider it an impromptu book club.

As Molly Flatt said on the Guardian's book blog: "Novels aren't just sources of solitary cogitation. They are social objects. ... Thanks to the intimate connection between story and reader, they impact upon us very personally, and can drive otherwise undemonstrative folk to feel they have a right - nay duty - to confront complete strangers with their zeal, and have thus been responsible for some of the most unexpected human encounters I've had."

Have you had a close encounter with a stranger over a book? Let me know in an e-mail or a comment on Read Street.

Here's what Read Street readers said:

* "Choosing a woman by the book in her hand makes more sense than choosing a woman by the drink in her hand. Still, I don't recall ever meeting anyone because of a book he or she was holding." - Patrick

* "I use books to get away from people and am actually annoyed when strangers ask me what I'm reading. I try to be polite, but I really want to say, 'None of your business. Go away.' " - Gail

* "Kindle provides you an opportunity to live within yourself, without any regard for what the people around you think of you. ... Is it possible that this piece of modern technology can actually help recover a lost freedom? Return us to a 'savage' understanding of our inner selves?" - Lenn

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