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Guest Post: The Social Reader

A photo of a girl reading a book in the middle of a high street

Editor’s note: this photograph was taken by Janna.

“Alice, stop reading you are here to see us.”

I had always thought of reading as a sociable activity; I read a lot, I love to discuss what I have read and this in turn encourages me to be social so I can have said discussions. Only recently have I realised other people do not always see reading this way, for the non-reader being in a room with people stuck in a book is not a sociable experience. Sometimes I am so preoccupied with a book, or who I want to discuss it with, that I forget people who do not enjoy reading as I do want to stop being so rude and acknowledge that they are there. To those people reading is not a sociable activity, and I can understand why.

For non-addicted readers, reading is a solitary pursuit, for spare time; for the addicted reader, however, reading is something everything else must work around. Reading gives me the rush of adrenaline others get from exercise, my brain goes into overload over a good book. Thus, reading must have a percentage of solitary and sociability to it, subjectively I would say my percentage would be 30% solitary to 70% sociable (my friends and family may disagree).

While I enjoy going home to read, I believe the following aspects of my reading allow the social side more time than the solitary: book groups, group reading, discussion, debates and blogging. The discussion of books with friends, book groups and bloggers brings reading out of the private and into the public. I spend as much time blogging and reading other blogs as I do reading books, I enjoy that differing of opinions you can only get via discussion.

This attitude to reading would be beneficial in getting others to read, primarily children. When I learnt to read at school there were reading levels; we took books home, read them and then swapped them for the next. There was no discussion about what we had read, we were just improving a skill necessary for life. I was not a great reader as a child; my schooling failed me as a young reader in neglecting to encourage discussion and teaching me that reading can be social. It is beneficial to engage children in reading activities beyond making it a dull homework. Now I am sure this is dependent on teacher’s time and parental involvement, but I enjoy the sentiment of the idea.

Googling the social side of reading, I came across this interesting article on the subject by William Flesch [article no longer exists]; he argues that merely by being the audience and engaging in the author’s work you are socially engaging. There is an interest in how we respond; though as readers we are all separate, we know that as we read a book others are too, and we perceive how they are enjoying the book and how they perceive we enjoy it. In being solitary we are also being social.

“The audience experience that I imagine, that I imitate, that I adopt, that I internalize, that I have is, at its most intense, and perhaps at its most most basic default-level, one of a solitary pleasure. Which means, I think, that solitude too (the good version of solitude offered by reading) is a social experience, and that social experience too contains solitude within it. I can learn and have learned from others – through imitation of them and through imitation of what they’ve loved – how to love the works I love. And a component of that solitary love is a desire to express it to others, to share it, to encourage or beg or demand or plead with them to experience it for themselves: read this, or watch this, it’s just so amazingly great.”

Do you get annoyed when people tell you you are rude for reading around them? Do you feel reading is more solitary than social? I would like to get your opinions.

Alice's Twitter picture

This post was written by Alice, a blogger of mostly literary and classical fiction who never fails to present her readers with some brilliant arguments and discussion points, combined with a personal flare that combines the subjective and objective. She writes at Of Books, and tweets at @nomoreparades


Chris Ciolli (@ChrisCiolli)

November 26, 2012, 8:28 am

My mother, my sister-in-law and I are all obsessive readers, and lots of time the men in our lives (husbands, brothers, fathers) get annoyed when they try to talk to use when we’re reading, as it’s the one time when we don’t hear anything they have to say. So in that aspect, reading isn’t social, but I agree with the idea that reading is communicating with the reader, a worthwhile social activity to be sure–how else can you carry-on a conversation (however one-sided) with a great author that’s been dead and gone for years, decades or centuries?


November 26, 2012, 10:56 am

I sympathise about your experience at school. I think especially in primary school children are not encouraged to discuss the books they read. Instead it is all about reaching targets. I was lucky that both my parents, and my grandmother were avid readers so I could talk to and be encouraged by them.
I agree that to readers, reading is social but it isn’t seen like that by non-readers. My mother and me will happily sit together with a cup of tea and read, but my stepfather can’t stand it!


November 26, 2012, 1:50 pm

In my “real” life reading is fairly solitary because no one I know reads the way I do. There is definitely no one to talk books with. My family used to (still does really) make fun of my reading habits when I was a child.

Now that I have a blog I find reading to be extremely social because there is this GREAT book blogging community. I thank my lucky stars that I’ve found you all.


November 27, 2012, 1:13 am

God, I hope people don’t think I’m rude for reading around them! I do it constantly, wherever I am. But not to be unsociable, honestly, or at least almost never that. I love reading in a room full of other people who are also reading, and looking up to chat about things when we feel like it.

jenn aka the picky girl

November 27, 2012, 5:29 pm

I remember my grandmother telling me to put my books down when she visited. I remember thinking, if they weren’t talking to me, why did it matter? In later years, she learned to enjoy reading, but she certainly didn’t when I was young.

I’m lucky in that my mom, dad, sis, brother, and best friend all love to read, so reading is definitely a social activity. But I like the idea that even when solitary, reading can be social.

Something What I Wrote Elsewhere. – of Books | of Books

November 27, 2012, 9:15 pm

[…] What I Wrote Elsewhere. My discussions on reading as a social activity: The Social Reader over at The Worm Hole. Written by Alice Posted in General, outside […]


November 27, 2012, 10:52 pm

I’ve learned not to read in some social situations.

But really, I like reading because it’s a mix of the social and asocial. You read in your own head, but you can also read in company, and you can discuss a book later.

Laurie C

November 28, 2012, 1:27 am

I mostly only read around family, but at work I will read on my lunch break instead of talking whenever I can get away with it without seeming rude to the other person (i.e. if they have something to read too). I have so little time to read, plus I work in a library, so it should be expected that we read at lunch!

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

November 28, 2012, 11:48 pm

I’ve never felt bad about reading, but my mom never really made me feel bad about checking out of social situations to read a book. And usually if I’m caught reading in public, it offers an opportunity to talk books with someone and make a recommendation — a social aspect of reading that I love.



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