Talking Books with Strangers

The most awkward bookish conversations I have are always with strangers who ask, as soon as they find out I’m a librarian, what my favorite book is or what I like to read. Every time this happens, my mind immediately goes blank. When I tweeted about this yesterday, I got some sympathy from my fellow book dragons. Finding out that I’m not the only one this happens to makes me feel better, but I wish I could respond to these questions with something more intelligent than, “Um…Well, I read a lot.”

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Marta Altés

The reason I blank out when I get asked by people I don’t know about my reading habits is that all of the possible answers I could give create a logjam on the way to my mouth. I read a lot. Unless I’m sick or have family obligations, I can read up to five books a week. No one apart from another book dragon wants to hear about all that and I know that strangers who ask the question are just trying to make conversation to pass the time. They are not prepared for the amount of bookish talk I can bring.

After the logjam, I start to overthink the whole thing and try to think of the most socially acceptable book to talk about. Which of the many books I’ve read recently should I tell this person about? The incredibly grim book about a horror movie? The book where women’s jaws rot because of radium? One of the many books about the Holocaust I’ve read? I know I’m weird, but I don’t want other people to know that about me right off the bat. I like to ease people into my bookishness and weirdness.

When I talk books with fellow readers, they understand that I can’t just pick one book or genre to talk about. I can pick a book or a genre to start with, after much mental struggle, but one book or genre can’t sum up who I am as a reader. It would be quicker to ask me what I don’t read (contemporary romance, true crime, hard science fiction, literary fiction about professors having affairs with students) or about a book I hated (The Great Gatsby—come fight me).

Yesterday, when a nurse asked me what I like to read, she made it easier for me by saying she’s a reader who’s looking for new books to read. Once the usual logjam cleared, the floodgates opened and we happily chatted about books for the rest of my appointment in between the medical stuff.

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2 thoughts on “Talking Books with Strangers

  1. During my volunteering hour at the workplace library I am often asked about my own reading, but the hidden question is almost always : “what can you recommend?” as the nurse you met. So I always give a title within the genre that the person is currently reading. It’s easier that way!

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