I was lucky enough to participate in last week’s episode of Radio Z. In case you missed it, the episode’s theme was building an audience through an author website. The episode had loads of practical advice—so definitely check out the recording if you’re thinking about starting a website or if you’re thinking about tweaking your own—but what I found most interesting about the conversation was the idea that while reading itself is generally a solitary act1 stories are social.
Stories have always been social. Long before people wrote them down, they had to be social, otherwise they would wither and die. Stories are rooted in oral traditions, in song and recitation, in epic poetry. I write novels, mostly, but novels wouldn’t exist without the undergirding of these oral traditions—the exchange of words around hearths from long ago.
We think of books as an introvert’s game, and to some extent that’s true. I am certainly an introvert. Writing and reading are a kind of solace to me, and introvert’s balm. I’m sure you know what I mean: the quiet, the little protective bubble a book casts around you. “This person is reading,” an open book says on public transit, “do not engage.”2
But what happens after the book is done? I can only speak for myself, but if it’s a good book, there’s a flurry of social activity. I start cramming it into people’s hands. “Have you read X? You should read X! You’ll love it.” There are facebook posts. I review it on my blog. There is tweeting, likely WITH GRATUITOUS CAPSLOCKING. A multitude of gchats with friends across the country. I scour other people’s reviews and reflect on my own experience reading the book. Sometimes, I might even engage with the author on social media, my fingers bent over my phone, biting my lip in anticipation of what they might say to me next.
Books, I’d argue (and I’m not the first to argue this, not by a long shot) are still social. They are just social in a different way. I was talking to my partner, Jon, about how grateful I am that I have built a website and that I have started building a presence on twitter because it’s led me to a community of people who value the same things I do in books. “You need that,” he said. “As long as I’ve known you3 you’ve needed people to talk to about books in really, really gory passionate detail. And I just can’t read fast enough to keep up with you. This is really good for you.”
He’s right. It is really good for me.
~1Except for those time back in high school where you were forced to read aloud round-robin style, which was always, always hella awkward.
2Sadly, this doesn’t always work, but it works at least some of the time.
3Which is my entire adult life, FYI. We met when we were eighteen.