Friday, August 31, 2012

Reading in Parallel

story time

H. reading a first book. Copyright Amaranth Road Studio. 2012

My family is full of readers. One of my favourite things to do on a lazy summer afternoon is to sit outside in the shade with a drink and a good book. When I was living at home "deck days" where most of the family was out reading in the back yard was a regular occurance when the weather got warm. So when my brother was visiting recently we very naturally spent some of our evenings with a book on our laps, reading companionably and taking short breaks to chat. While I find silently reading in the company of others a social thing, my husband thinks its extremely anti-social.

"What is social about ignoring the people in the same room as you to read a book?" he asked. Good question I suppose.

My answer relates to the perception that I'm ignoring my co-readers. It just isn't the case. Parallel reading involves delving into the world of your book while remaining aware that others are travelling in different literary worlds. Every once in awhile we surface from the page to check in with each other. We might share a particularly funny or thought provoking passage, and if the issues raised are compelling enough a brief conversation might ensue. When the chatting comes to a natural close everyone returns to their books, where they immerse themselves in various cultural experiences. Reading silently together means that each person present is gaining new knowledge, and new modes of thinking that may be shared with others to enrich conversation.

There's also something pleasant about a companionable silence, punctuated only by the occasional turn of the page (or in the modern era the click of the button on your e-reader). I don't think there's anything innately anti-social about not talking. In fact, it might be nicer if there wasn't always an expectation for conversation when people are gathered. It's friendly and comfortable to sit next to a good friend or family member and become absorbed in books. I find the experience cozy and relaxing. It's a way of sharing space and building relationships even while the people involved may be pursuing wildly different interests. When else can one person engage their interest in quantum physics and another engage their interest in photography at the same time and still feel that they have spent some quality time together?

Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe picking up a book to read while others are present is just rude. What do you think?