An older, retired couple (retired from their jobs rather than retired from being a couple – in this moment, they look very much in love) sit at a table and read. She stops every so often and reads him a line and he tells her what he thought when he first read the same book. He stops her in the flow of reading to share a story from the newspaper.
“Can I ask you a question?” I ask the woman.
“Sure,” she says.
“What are you reading?” I ask.
“What are you reading. Would you share what you’re reading. I’m always interested in expanding my taste in literature.”
“I don’t know if this is literature. It’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest,” she says.
“Sounds like a cheap knock-off of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” I explain.
“Yes, well it’s a sequel to that book,” she answers.
“It’s a great read. It’s much faster than the last one. It has you thinking about what’s going to happen next. There’s suspense and you know, the character development isn’t bad,” she says.
“She used to be an English teacher,” the man explains. “She used to make fun of this stuff. She called it fluff. Now she sees that some fluffy things are good. Like whip cream.”
* * *
A few minutes later, I turn to the man at the table next to mine and ask, “Would you share a page with me?”
“Sure, which section?” he responds with a thick New England accent.
“What do you recommend? It’s your news feed,” I respond.
“News feed? It’s just the paper.”
“Yeah,” I say awkwardly.
“I recommend the sports section. The business section is depressing. But Boston is a game away from winning it all.”
“Is there an article you would want to share?”
“Right here. Page A7. It’s about the Republican debate getting lower ratings than the hockey championships.”
* * *
Originally we had planned to print up websites and blog posts and pass them out to friends. However, after sharing links at professional development and passing out Drawn Into Danger to friends, but it didn’t seem to capture the random nature of sharing links with acquaintances.
The truth is that we share text with friends quite often. When Javi the Hippie borrows a book, it’s a guarantee of a great conversation. When Julia borrows a book, I know I’ll get it back in a week with a very concise review and a series of thought-provoking questions. When David borrows a book, I can expect him to stop by the house to talk about it throughout the reading process.
Back in college, I used to borrow books from Brad the Philosopher. I had never seen someone so intentional with his reading. I’d read scribbled lines in the margins and I’d question why he underlined certain lines. It was the story within the story, reminding me that reading is never quite as solitary an endeavor as I had once imagined it to be. It became a silent, asynchronous conversation.
As we move toward e-readers, tablets and online reading, I wonder if we’re losing something valuable in sharing books. Like physical photo albums or front porches, we’ll wake up from the digital fog one day and realize that we miss the notes in the margins.