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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Books: Do they isolate or connect us?

Several years ago, I was working on a writing project with a colleague in another state and staying at her home. I remember feeling shocked when she told me she hadn't read a book for pleasure in nearly 15 years. I'm one of those people who get grumpy if I haven't read for a couple of days. I think I'd be impossible to live with if I tried to go a week without a book.

My friend went on to express concerns about her daughter who, she felt, was reading too much. I had to ask for clarification on this statement, because I didn't understand how someone, especially a 13-year-old girl, could read too much. I felt almost as though I had entered the Twilight Zone. She went on to say that the punishment she used most frequently with her daughter was to take away her leisure reading time.

While I'm not one to interfere or criticize another person's parenting techniques I had to question this. Why was reading a problem?

The answer was that she said reading was escapism and isolated her daughter from other people. It robbed her of social opportunities that she ought to be taking advantage of.

It was a different perspective and one I spent the next couple years thinking about. Was there something wrong with me because I had spent my whole childhood reading? Would I be a healthier person had I not read so much as a teenager?

During this past year, I realized very firmly what my answers were to those questions. For you see, I don't think that reading is a solitary pasttime. Certainly, you're alone when you do it. However, reading is something that helps us connect with other people. They help us to understand each other and the world around us. They let us explore ways of communicating with each other and let us peek into the thought processes of people who are different from ourselves.

Also, the more we read, the more likely we are to be able to connect with people who have read the same things that we have. I sat and listened to a group of my friends banter the other night. We're a fairly well-read group, and the pop culture references that were being bandied about were far more often from books than from television or movies. The things that we've read form a bond between us that molds our language and spices our conversation.

Even those books that we don't have in common provide fertile ground for discussions as we share with each other new ideas we've encountered or particular styles that tickle our fancy.

If we didn't read, we'd have far less in common with each other.

Now, with the Internet, books are connecting us even more. Book lovers from around the globe are able to connect with each other over their favorite books. Then can analyze in detail books in a series and share each other's guesses about what comes next. We meet on bulletin boards, in online book clubs, and at each other's blogs. We visit book sites and review sites and glean all the information we can so that when we meet, we have even more to talk about.

It's one of the reasons why I've been excited about the Love of Reading Online Book Fair that's running this week. It's yet another way that book lovers are connecting with each other and proving once again that books don't isolate us and rob us of golden opportunities. Instead, they bring us together and make our connections with our fellow human beings all the stronger.

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