On New Year’s morning, my family gathers to write our resolutions for the next year. Each year we put our resolutions in our respective Christmas stockings, so we have pieces of paper from years past stashed in each one. My scraps usually list a particular weight I want to achieve by the next year, a weight I haven’t seen since the last century. This year I’ve given up dieting to get there and gone straight to begging the scale to lie. Annually, my husband writes that he wants to touch his toes, but his calf muscles have yet to comply. Nevertheless, we have fun looking at our successes and failures while contemplating what we’re going to work on for the coming year.
This year I’m going to include a literary resolution. I was reading the Saturday WSJ article about 2009 resolutions of the famous. Nine people said they were going to write books, but only five of them were authors. So much talk about the end of the book while everyone is writing one. My 2009 literary resolution isn’t to write a book; my resolution resulted from a talk I heard about the future of book culture. One of the panelists, Andrew Tonkovich, editor of the Santa Monica Review and host of a weekly literary arts program on KPFK in Los Angeles, declared that we all have to be emissaries to build a literary culture. To do so, he aggressively changes conversations to what people are reading and the ideas in those books. He is trying to elevate the level of conversation to ideas that come from both fiction and non-fiction. My resolution is to join his band of emissaries.
I committing to trying to move conversations from the petty and mundane to what people are thinking about from the books they are reading. I frequently ask people what books they are reading if I know they’re a reader, but now I’m going to ask indiscriminately. If someone isn’t reading a book, I’ll ask why and follow up with a recommendation. (I firmly believe that there is a book that will lure in the most obstinate non-reader.) When someone tells me what book they are reading, I usually only ask, “Do you like it?” Now I’m going to ask more pointed questions (I have a teenager, so I’ve had practice at this).
Instead of general yes or no question, I’ll shoot for “Who’s the main character,” “How is she changing,” “What would you change about the book,” “What is the most interesting thing you’re learning about the subject,” or ”Do you trust/agree/disagree with the author’s point of view?” I find books much richer if I talk about them. When I just read them and move on to the next one, they fade away in my memory. Discussions, either in a book group or with a friend, help me formulate what I think about the book. I experience their ideas at a new level. Plus, books are a much better launching pad into other conversations than “How was your day?”
So starting now, I’ll ask about your day and I still care about what is going on in your life, but I also want to know what you’re thinking about what you’re spending hours reading, more than if you just like the book.