Reading as Conversation
by Holly Robinson
“We’re all strangers connected by what we reveal, what we share, what we take away–our stories. I guess that’s what I love about books–they are thin strands of humanity that tether us to one another for a small bit of time, that make us feel less alone or even more comfortable with our aloneness, if need be.”
It’s easy to think of reading as a solitary pursuit. After all, we’re usually snuggled in bed, hunched on a subway, or lying in the tub when we fire up our e-readers or open a book. But the truth is that reading is a conversation. The author is trying to communicate and connect with readers, and readers, more often than not, have plenty to say to the writer.
This point was hammered home to me as both a reader and writer recently. In the first instance, I was reading Elizabeth George’s new tome, Just One Evil Act, and found myself wishing I could not only converse with her, but possibly shout at her, too.
I’ve been a loyal George fan through the years, buying every one of her novels in hardcover (and, occasionally, as digital books, too, when a book is too heavy to take on a trip and I want to finish it on vacation). Sadly, this book did not deliver. In fact, it made me furious. It’s set in Italy, in large part, and that should have been a point in its favor, but instead George ladles out so many unnecessary details about the Italian setting and sprinkles so many (untranslated) Italian phrases throughout the novel, that frankly it reads like a research paper, and not a very interesting one at that.
“How can you do this to me?” I hissed in frustration as my husband came upstairs to bed.
“What?” he asked, baffled. “I told you I’d do the dishes, and I did.”
I scowled at him. “Not you. Her.” I jabbed a finger at the author photo of Elizabeth George. The book was so heavy I had to hold it on my lap on a pillow. “I don’t even care what happens to any of these people anymore. I’m just bored!”
Yes, I’d connected with Elizabeth George, all right. But I was ready to end the conversation.
Likewise, recently I was visiting a book club at our local library. The members had read my new novel, The Wishing Hill, and we were having a conversation about it. One astute reader commented about one main character “always looking through binoculars or windows. That’s a great device for showing how removed she’s feeling from her own life.”
Huh. I’d never thought of that while actually writing the book, but wow, I must be brilliant!
Another reader was less complimentary. “Why are all of the men in your book so damn nice?” she asked. “You must have good relationships with the men in your life.”
I do. On the other hand, I certainly don’t want to write two-dimensional characters. I made a mental note to give the characters in my novel-in-progress some more flaws.
As a reader and as a writer, too, I love discussing books because they offer windows to new ideas and intense emotions that I can share with my friends—or with total strangers online. Books keep the conversation going about politics, culture, language, and the affairs of the human heart. Talking about what we read can connect us to our own emotions—and to each other—in profound ways.
Next time you open a book, think about what you’d like to say to the author—and, as you finish reading it, find a friend to share the book with, so those pages can serve as a pathway to a deeper, more intimate connection with the people in your life.
Holly Robinson is a celebrity ghost writer and journalist whose work has appeared in a variety of national magazines. She is the author of The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir (Crown 2009) and two novels published by NAL/Penguin, The Wishing Hill (July 2013) and Beach Plum Island (April 2014).
Ms. Robinson holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She and her husband have five children and live on the North Shore of Massachusetts, where they’re rehabbing an old Colonial one shingle at a time.
About The Wishing Hill
Years ago, Juliet Clark gave up her life in California to follow the man she loved to Mexico and pursue her dream of being an artist. Now her marriage is over, and she’s alone, selling watercolors to tourists on the Puerto Vallarta boardwalk.
When her brother asks her to come home to wintery New England and care for their ailing mother, a flamboyant actress with a storied past, Juliet goes reluctantly. She and her self-absorbed mother have always clashed. Plus, nobody back home knows about her divorce—or the fact that she’s pregnant and her ex-husband is not the father.
Juliet intends to get her mother back on her feet and return to Mexico fast, but nothing goes as planned. Instead she meets a man who makes her question every choice and reawakens her spirit, even as she is being drawn into a long-running feud between her mother and a reclusive neighbor. Little does she know that these relationships hold the key to shocking secrets about her family and herself that have been hiding in plain sight.
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