The Page a Day Writers Group

Reading as a Communal Experience (plus some sick-day ramblings)

Posted on: January 22, 2010

I read a ton of books when I was young. I would take my little red wagon to the library and load it up with as many books as I could pull home, 20, 30, 40 or more. As the librarian made her way through my towering stack of books, I always had a moment of panic that she might cut me off like a bartender, withhold my selections and tell me “Go home, you’ve had enough!” I think that the limit was 50 books, but vaguely recall the librarian telling that the limit was whatever I could read in two weeks. I stopped myself at 50. Taking any more would look downright greedy.

When I came home, I would sort through the books and stack them in “to be read” order. I still do this when I have a stash of new books and enjoy it just as much. It’s like planning a meal. First, start off with an appetizer (humor, graphic novel, pulp), followed by the soup course (ghost story, fairy tale, fantasy), fish course (memoir, food, travel), entree (literary novel, biography, nonfiction) and dessert (romance, chick lit, guilty pleasures) etc., striving for a balanced reading experience the way a chef strives to create the perfect complement of flavors and textures, sweets and savories.

Reading, however, has always been a private experience. It’s just me and the world inside the book (I know it’s a good one if I stop seeing the text on the page and see the characters instead). When it was over, I’d pick up the next book and plow through that, unless I paused for a day or two to enjoy a particularly tasty story whose flavor still lingered. Today, I might pass a book along to a friend with a general recommendation that it was awesome, or more her style than mine or vice versa, but try it anyway. The discussion ends there. So I was quite surprised to discover the enormous community of online book bloggers and reviewers when Ice Song was published and began making its way around the blogosphere.

Shelfari, Goodreads, Living Social and the numerous book blogs loving maintained by avid readers — who knew? Readers’ devotion to their favorite genres and authors astounds me. The depth and care typical of their analysis demonstrates a whole new way of absorbing and digesting stories–reading as a communal exercise. The open forum for reviews and the comments they generate transform reading from a solitary activity to a shared one–a DIY instant book club.

Whether or not I’ll join the discussion is yet undecided. Call me old school–a book is a personal thing. Maybe I’m selfish in not wanting to share my experience with other, break it down into components and analyze its parts. I fear the magic would be lost. But maybe I’ll be brave and try it, and discover my enjoyment enhanced by a shared appreciation, rather than diminished by too-close scrutiny.

(Man, that was like drawing blood from a stone. Now I can chuck my literary voice and tell you that my head is foggy ’cause those little germ machines that live with me brought suitcases full of rhinovirus home from school. That the rain is beating down and I’m distracted by cloud patterns and long for bed and laptop and warm choco chippers. That I’m considering buying a pizza with next week’s gas money so I don’t have to cook tonight — and will worry about how to get to work later, like next week when I don’t have any gas money. That I really need a hot toddy with honey and lemon and that today is definitely a five cups of tea day.)

Kirsten Imani Kasai

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3 Responses to "Reading as a Communal Experience (plus some sick-day ramblings)"

Your love for reading definitely explains your brilliance when it comes to writing!

First of all, I adore the memory of pulling your little red wagon to the library to load up with as many books as possible!

I am also someone who has never participated in a book club. I’ve been tempted- I think the communal sharing and lively discussion would be fabulous- but my hang-up is that I feel selfish about the books I choose to read. I want to choose all the books I read. Reading time is so precious, I don’t want to have to read someone else’s choice just for the sake of participating in a book club. Everyone probably takes turns, right? That sounds so sweet and fair, but if you don’t want to read the choice, you end up resenting the hours you spend on a book you didn’t want to read, opting out like a “poor sport” or God forbid, reading Cliff’s Notes? But I suppose I could view it as an excercise in zen- whatever comes my way is fine, as far as reading material… I’m so not zen in that way!

Here’s a resource, though, that might be fun in the communal sense: One Book/One San Diego. I have yet to read one of the selections, but it might be a fun way to try a “shared reading experience…” http://www.kpbs.org/one-book/

Yes, Ondine, reading a book one isn’t really interested in feels too much like an assignment. Time is precious. I’d much rather spend my reading time with a fascinating new friend than suffer through a stilted conversation with someone I have nothing in common with.

I guess I am simply too territorial about my books. The relationship between me and the story is too precious a bubble to burst with a detailed analysis of its parts. “Leave us alone. We are busy.”

It’s that way with films too. Movies that I see by myself stick with me far longer and have a more lasting impact than those I see with friends.

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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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