My friend Sarah told me recently about a grandmother she knows who was having a hard time holding a conversation with her teenage granddaughter.
Their phone calls, I imagine, went something like this:
How’s school going?
Never miss a local story.
What are you doing this weekend?
Any exciting plans for the summer?
One day the grandmother tried a new question, and that made all the difference.
“She said, ‘What are you reading?’ ” Sarah said. “And they spent the next 20 minutes talking about ‘The Hunger Games.’ ”
People who read – no matter their age – usually love to talk about what they’re reading. I know I do.
Toddlers will show you their favorite picture book. Youngsters will tell you all about “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” or the Percy Jackson series. And those Harry Potter fans? I mean, please. They go on and on.
Adults are no different. I belong to a few book discussion groups, including KMUW’s Literary Feast and the monthly CSB Books & Brews gathering at Central Standard Brewing, and they’re always enjoyable.
Recently I got to sit down with my friend Beth Golay in the studios at KMUW in Wichita, where we had another long, glorious chat about books and reading – and more specifically about the Wichita Eagle Reading Challenge – as part of her Marginalia podcast.
We talked about how the challenge, issued on New Year’s Eve, has inspired us both to read more and read differently these past several months.
I’ve read many more books by people of color, including “The Underground Railroad,” “Another Brooklyn” and “Exit West.” I’ve read more nonfiction, including “Hillbilly Elegy” and “Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War.” And I gleefully rediscovered a childhood favorite: “The Phantom Tollbooth.”
Beth said she loves the accountability aspect of the challenge – the positive peer pressure of keeping a list and the primal satisfaction of checking off books as she completes them.
In the five months since I first issued the 12-month, 12-book reading challenge, several people have asked me how I manage to read so many books. (Last year I read 37 books; my goal this year is 50.)
The simple answer: I make reading a priority. I read in the morning with my cup of coffee. I sometimes read on my lunch hour. And every so often, on a gloomy day when my family and I don’t have much planned, I’ll sit and read for a few hours straight. That’s heaven.
And while it’s true that reading is a solitary activity, it can be social as well. With the rise of apps like GoodReads, a social networking site for book lovers, and the proliferation of book clubs and book challenges, reading is becoming downright communal.
Beth and I talked for an hour that day about books. We could have talked another hour or more.
So it turns out Grandma was right: If you want to keep a conversation going, forget, “How are you?” Try, “What are you reading?”
Listen to the podcast
Suzanne Tobias recently joined Beth Golay in the KMUW studio to discuss how reading challenges can benefit any type of reader. To listen to the Marginalia podcast, go to kmuw.org or find it on iTunes.