Friday, January 21, 2011

Reading socially

I was never very concerned about the New York Times Best Seller lists and other such. I read books primarily because I want to, and discover them through a variety of ways (almost none of which involve popular book lists), such as reading authors cited by authors I like as influences, noting works referenced in articles, discovering books in thrift stores, etc.

But recently I discovered an advantage to keeping within the mainstream -- it can be another way to connect socially. I recently met with three other people for dinner/work meeting, and to get the conversation started, someone asked what we were reading or had just finished reading.

One person had finished Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth, a massive (and massively popular) bestseller. We were all more or less familiar with the book and/or the author, furthering the conversation. Another was reading the Molly Murphy mystery series by Rhy Bowen, light mystery stories set in turn-of-the-century New York. Which lead to more conversation.

Me? I had just finished reading Walter Gibson's The Shadow, the Hawk and the Skull
half of a Nostalgia Ventures reprint. Well, that killed the conversation dead. Because what I was reading was so esoteric, I had to quickly supply a lot of background just to provide some context to the book -- it was very much like explaining a joke. Here's what I had to do:

1) Explain that the 1930's were the heyday of fiction magazines. They were printed on cheap pulp paper, hence the term "pulp fiction" for over-the-top crime/adventure stories.

2) Explain that one of the greatest characters to come from the pulp era was the crime-fighter, the Shadow.

3) Explain that I had first discovered the character in a short-lived series of reprints done back in the 1970's and so was very excited to see Nostalgia Ventures attempt to reprint all 285 novels.

4) Explain that for me, the appeal was the inventiveness of the primary author of the series, Walter Gibson. Gibson turned out many different types of stories involving the Shadow -- who-done-its, straight-ahead action stories, science fiction, thrillers, stories where the main character was the Shadow, others where he only appears on the fringes, and so on.

I went into about the same amount of detail in the conversation that I did in the bullet points above, but it still brought everything to a screeching halt. My reading matter was so far out in left field, I wore everyone out trekking over to it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. "The Shadow, the Hawk and the Skull" has two villains working at cross-purposes with the story's heroine (who soon falls in with the Shadow) being caught in the middle. It also has an ingenious plot twist at the very end that only works because Gibson very carefully chose every word in the last chapters to keep the reader from guessing the ending. But it took so long to lay the groundwork for what I was reading, I never got to share any of that with the group.

I now understand why some people pay attention to the NYT Best Seller list. Read books from the list and it sure keeps things simple in conversations!

I'm not going to change my reading habits -- I enjoy what I read too much. But maybe I need to check out a John Grisham tome or something. Just to be sociable.

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