Friday, November 16, 2012

Books as Conversation Starters

by Pa Rock
Reader of Books

When I see someone engrossed in a book, I often try to work my way in close enough to see what they are reading.  I do that because I'm curious.  If the book is engrossing, I want to know what it is so that I can find out more about it.   That little act of espionage is much harder  to accomplish if the person has his nose in a e-reader.

An e-reader is a gadget.  Toting a gadget around tells people that you have and understand gadgets.  Beyond that, it reveals little of the complexities an individual embodies.  A book, on the other hand, offers a bit more of a description regarding the person who possesses it.

And knowing just a bit about a person can lead to conversation - an exchange of information with someone who otherwise might amount to little more than a shadow flitting across your day.

I think that I told the story in this space about the lady working the cash register at a bakery/grocery store in Toronto last fall where I was having breakfast.  The book that I had brought along to enjoy with my croissants was Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  The cashier and I would have had nothing more in common than the quick exchange of money but for the presence of that book.  As it turned out,  I learned about her college coursework and her interest in English literature, and she became aware of the work of my son - the screenwriter.

Today I had a similar encounter in Arizona, a place I often dismiss as being a cultural wasteland.  For the past three months or so my "day" book has been The Complete Works of H.P Lovecraft, a bulky tome of over a thousand pages.  I read for thirty minutes to an hour each morning in the car before work - and lately before daylight - and also at lunch.   Lunch is often at the local Sonic, a place that I like to frequent because it is never very busy and the kids who work there don't mind me taking up a parking space to read after I finish my burger.

Today when the young girl brought my delicious lunch of two corn dogs and a Route 44 diet cherry limeade, she managed to get a look at the cover of my book which was sitting on the front seat.  "Oh," she said excitedly, "I love H.P. Lovecraft!"

"You do?"  I replied.  "That's very unusual in someone so young."  She could not have been more than a year out of high school.

"Oh, yes."  She assured me.   ""I also like Homer's Iliad and The Odyssey - and when I was in high school I learned to appreciate Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales."

That led me into telling her about my visit to Westminster Abbey a few years back where I searched unsuccessfully for the grave of Chaucer.  (He is buried in the famous Poet's Corner, but his grave, alas, is unmarked.)

Now I have a new friend, and my opinion of the cultural landscape of Arizona has risen - if ever so slightly.  If I had an e-reader on the car seat instead of an actual book, the corn dogs would have been the highlight of my lunch break.

Can you guess what will become of my large, wonderful book when I finally finish it next week?

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