Sunday, August 1, 2010

It is August

So it's summertime, which usually means that people are reading a lot more now, and I understand why, but in my case it's just the reverse. When it's winter there is nothing more I want to do than sit (huddled, really) in front of my wood stove and read and read in the hours of darkness that are the upstate New York winter. When it's summer I lose all ability to focus on anything more than the stray New Yorker article, which ultimately never gets finished anyway. I'm always bringing things with me to read wherever I go, but summer is just so distracting that I just can't get any reading done. Recently I took my daughters to a lake and brought with me some printed pages of stories from my writing group, plus a David Sedaris book, which is one of the few things I can read any time of year. There was an older couple nearby who ended up moving a lot closer to me to get out of the sun and they seemed very interested in what I was reading. So interested that the man eventually asked me if I was a scientist since I seemed to be reading something so serious looking. The David Sedaris book had an X-ray of a skull on the cover, which I thought they were referring to, and so I proceeded to explain that he was, in fact, an essayist and a hilarious one at that. But no, the man said, those pages you were reading. Yes, said his (presumed) wife. It looks like you are reading very serious material. Oh, that's just stuff from my writing group, I told them, and explained how we meet twice a month and critique each other's stories. So, the man said, smiling, you want to be a writer! I am a writer, I snapped, probably unfairly. There was more to this conversation, but my point here is that had I been reading perhaps a Dan Brown book I probably would have been left alone.

But this brings me to another point, which is that I am fascinated by what other people are reading all the time. If I see someone anywhere with a book, I feel like it's my right to know what they are reading, and I will go out of my way just to see the cover. And then, sometimes, I will even try to talk to that person about the book they are reading, especially if I have read it myself. This does not always go well. But then, see, I rarely feel like talking about what I'm reading when questioned about it because usually I don't feel like talking and would just like to keep, um, reading, which is exactly what I never think of when I start talking to other people who are reading. Once, many years ago, I was reading Don DeLillo's White Noise on the subway and a woman across from me smiled and said, Now Don DeLillo. He's a real writer. I smiled back and said, Yes, he really is. But usually it's not like that at all. It's more like, Oh, I saw that book once. What's it about? which I never know how to answer because most books aren't really "about" something. Or at least something you can sum up in a sentence or two. What is White Noise about exactly? Well, there's this guy who's a professor, but then there's all these toxic chemicals released into the air, and then. I really am not very good at this.

So when I see someone reading a book, I will comment if I've read the book before, and I will usually say something like, Oh, isn't that book so great? And I find myself quite surprised when people don't automatically want to engage in a long, long discussion with me involving what made the book so great, and what they thought about that previous book the author wrote, and the fact that the author actually grew up in Baltimore but now lives in Brooklyn and etc. etc. Because the thing that never occurs to me, until maybe right this moment, is that the person in question almost always wants to just keep on, um, reading. Which is pretty much what I always want to keep doing. Unless it's a hot summer day, of course. And there's a lake nearby.

1 comment:

SZ said...

I love looking at what other people are reading on the subway, but two recent trends have made it less fun: 1) Kindles and 2) that blasted "Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" book that every third person is carrying. (I read it. It's not that good.)

On two occasions young women on the train have asked me about the book I was reading. Both times they ended up inviting me to their church. Man...