Friday, January 2, 2009

A New Party Hobby

You know how in Jane Austen novels characters sit around at social gatherings for what seems like hours? Accepted activities include playing the piano and cards, but there are also books out on display for people to read. In Pride and Prejudice, Bingley's sister chides Elizabeth for preferring reading to cards; it is, however, perfectly socially acceptable for her to be sitting on the sofa reading while Darcy writes a letter to his sister and the others play cards.

I mention this because my mother recently teased me for reading my book while we were at my sister's house after dinner. I completely understand why it was considered rude and felt correspondingly sheepish: it is like signaling that the company is too boring for me to bother with conversation.

I have to confess that I am often tempted to read in the middle of social gatherings. Maybe it is because I am an introvert with mild social anxiety. I was recently at a party where I found myself alone in the living room perusing the host's shelves; what I really wanted to be doing was just sitting on the couch and reading. It is not that I dislike conversation or social interaction, but when it gets overwhelming or I feel like I have nothing to contribute it seems harmless enough--at my sister's house, she and her husband were putting the kids to bed while my parents talked and I felt I was out of the loop and wouldn't be missed.

Why is it acceptable to watch T.V. or a play video games in a group but not read? Presumably because watching T.V. is at least a shared activity, while reading is a solitary experience. Something I love to do however, is read my book while other people are scooting around doing other things--cooking, checking work email, or reading themselves--and then make them listen to my favorite excerpts. How annoying am I? I confess I wouldn't mind reverting to Austen's time when you could have your cake and eat it (or have your book and read it, har, har) by sitting in a social environment and reading away: converse when it pleases you, read when you need distraction or to have something of substance to converse about. The perfect marriage of activities for both introverts and extroverts!


two forks said...

ha! i would gauge how bad a date was by if i would rather be home reading! once i asked a guy if i could read my book on the date... he didn't like that one bit!

Nicole Lake said...

I agree! Nick and I read together. I love to interrupt his reading while I read aloud a quote. I don't think he likes it but I can't help myself. It's like telling someone about your dreams, very interesting to share, not interesting to hear.