Forget Facebook and Snapchat. I’m casting a vote for books as favorite form of social media. There’s just something physical about the relationship between reader and a real-life ink-and-paper book.
It starts in the bookstore: after spending hours deliberating, jauntily tilting the spines off the shelves to read the teasers, the stack of books mounting in your hands like Gus Gus’ corn kernels, sitting in the kids’ section or in a corner of the little-frequented philosophy aisle to sort and resort the competition until there’s only one title standing, you leave the bookshop hands cheerfully filled by the weight of a single, agonizingly and deliberately chosen object in your hand.
Perhaps it sounds solitary, but as anyone who frequents bookstores could tell you, if you spend enough time there, you’re bound to make a connection with someone: the alert staffer who condones your selection of an obscure original from a new best-selling author as they ring you up; the post-gym mom who spots you thumbing through her favorite slip-of-a-book of poetry; the scruffy, flannel-clad guy who starts emphatically raving about the 12-pound presidential bio whose front flap you dared flip open; the little boy laying on his belly reading your favorite Berenstain Bears.
Finally you bend or crack or curl open the spine of the book as you’re sitting on the metro or waiting for friends at a restaurant. You lay it on your lap while you’re sitting in a waiting room or grab it as a portable desk as you jot down a name on a scrap of paper. You notice the person across the way glancing your way, curling slightly over themselves as they lean to glimpse at the cover, make sure it is what they think it is. You see their body do a subtle, fluid dance-like sway : first as though they’re being pulled away at the hips, but their head is loathe to turn away, and then one foot redirects. They tilt slightly, until their head is in that space between the upper horizon of the pages and your hazy bottom eyelid.
“Who is John Galt?” they say. Or “I just finished my first James Joyce.”
“What?” you reply.
They point at your hands.
“It’s great, right? What do you think?”
“Oh, uh, yea! I’ve only just started, though.”
Chuckles. “Ah! Yea. Anyway such a good book. I’m really fascinated by all that right now.”
So few words exchanged, and yet the words between you are hundredfold, in black and white. And suddenly the world behind the pages is part of the real world. And suddenly you have something in common with this person you may otherwise only have glanced at dully through a crowd. For a book-lover, sharing the experience of a good book – and especially of a great book – is intimately powerful.
They may be fewer and far between than the hearts that pop up on an Instagram image, but these are interactions a Kindle or an iPad can’t give you. What greater social media than from media that actually creates physical, human social interaction?
We seem to regard fleeting, passing exchanges as irrelevant – why bother greeting the saleswoman at the electronics store when you just need to grab a pair of headphones? why chat with the waiter at the restaurant when you’ll never be back in Portland? – but, in the least case scenario, these brief dialogues bring an element of the shared human experience – we are both here and now in this place at this moment – and in the best case scenario, they allow us to connect with someone on a personal level, make a small-world friend-of-a-friend connection, learn about the best live band bar to follow up your dinner.