When visiting family or eating with friends (or interviewing job candidates), I often ask “what are you reading?” I find books or other long form writing a better source of conversational kindling than discussing the weather, recent doctor visits or the op-ed pages. A discussion starting with books and authors can lead anywhere.
For example, my Aunt and I regularly exchange book ideas. A lover of horses and Native American culture, she introduced me to Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police mysteries featuring police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee. (So far, I’ve read Dance Hall for the Dead and The Ghostway.) This led to discussions about Navajo artists and my Aunt’s earrings, which helped me discover the Native American artist Frances Jones and a lovely bracelet for my wife for our anniversary. This series of links, connected by books, occurred over a ten-year period.
My Mom and Dad belong to book clubs (Mom and her friends drink tea when discussing their books; Dad’s crew drinks wine). Over the years, both sent me books they’ve read and enjoyed. Dad, a Vietnam Veteran, sent me a copy of Beyond Survival by former POW Gerald Coffee. The book recounts how Coffee and his fellow prisoners of war supported each other and communicated with a secret code tapped on walls between cells. (Sometime, after a difficult day, I flip through this book for perspective and appreciation.) The book strengthened an interest in reporting and fiction from Vietnam, including my favorite, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a book of linked short stories related to the Vietnam War.
Books connect us. This goes beyond required high school reading and Bible study, both of which offer their own foundational literacy. When someone uses the word “tesseract” or “grok” in a sentence, I feel a flush of joy and follow-up later to ask when they read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time or Richard Heinlein’s A Stranger in a Strange Land. The book-based connections help us share memories (and travel through space and time).
So, what are you reading? I welcome your comments and recommendations.
This post is dedicated to my Dad. Happy Birthday, Captain!