Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reading as a Social Activity

If you're visiting a fanfiction review blog, the odds are you're something of a reader already.  So, here's something I've been turning over in my head for the last few days re. reading.  Below the break, as always.

Recently, I was hanging out with a friend.  After some small talk and a couple games of cribbage, we reached the inevitable point in the get together where "What do you want to do?"  "I dunno, what do you want to do?" began being bandied back and forth.  A thoroughly typical exchange, to that point.

But then my friend asked me a question that broke the routine; "What you do for fun when we're not hanging out?" he asked.

Being me, the first thing that popped to my mind was reading.  "Yeah, but that's not something we can do together," he said, and I nodded in agreement.  Eventually, we went to see a movie.

Later on, as I thought back on the conversation, I found myself wondering about his immediate rejection of reading as a leisure activity on anything other than an individual level, and my unblinking acceptance of the same.  Why can't reading be a social activity?  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that for me, it often is.

When I read for pleasure, it's often while sitting in the living room.  My mom is frequently at the couch immediately next to it, and we've spent a lot of time reading together.  Now, we're not reading aloud, or even reading the same books, which is why I didn't immediately realize that we weren't just each reading alone in each others presence (the way one might read while sitting on a bus, for example).  But we are reading together.

Whenever she or I come across an interesting or amusing passage, we'll stop and read or summarize it for each other.  Often we'll describe what we're reading when we've picked up a new book, and often we'll end up chatting (or sometimes, arguing) about what an author has said or assumed.  True, we'll also lapse into lengthy silences when neither of us has anything worth saying or quoting, but the point is that we're engaging each other while reading--reading together.

I compare that to the movie my friend and I saw (it was Skyfall, by the way--I'm sure it was great if you like that sort of thing, but I prefer my Bond witty, unflappable, poised, and outfitted with ridiculous gadgets).  We sat next to each other, so there was at least physical proximity involved, but spacing was about the only social aspect of the entire experience. We each spent two hours completely avoiding any sort of eye contact or communication, in a setting which discourages both by turning down the lights, providing a constant visual spectacle, accompanied by loud sounds, all of which you're not supposed to speak during.

Now, I'm not trying to rain on movies.  I'm just saying that, if I wanted to hang out with a friend, wouldn't a movie be just about the worst place to do so?  And yet, if someone offers me a book and a DVD, the book I'll take home and read on my own.  The movie?  I'll probably ask when we can watch it.

And there's nothing wrong with watching a movie with friends.  But the thing is, I'd have enjoyed Skyfall no less if I'd seen it alone.

Reading with my mom, on the other hand?  That's something I can't do alone.


  1. A movie experience can be social, and watching a movie (or a TV series or the like) with others can change the experience a lot.

    I used to live in a country where talking in the cinema was acceptable, so long as you try to keep the noise to a minimum. I had a set of friends that I constantly went to see movies, and commenting on things made everything better, specially if the movie itself was terrible.

    Since I moved to another country much more strict about this, I found that I have no reason to go see movies in the big screen any more. Even if you go with others it is a very solitary experience, and indeed, no better than simply watching the movie alone. So now
    either I try to get people over to watch on a TV (which is not as fun as doing that in a cinema), or I watch them alone in my computer.

    I guess you have a point here, that certain individual activities can change if you do them socially.

  2. An interesting thought. Things like this are why I frequent this site.

  3. I was going to say that, while reading can be an enjoyable social activity with those you see regularly, it's probably not something you'd do with a friend you rarely get to see. Then you had to go and make that excellent point about movies. I have a friend whom I haven't seen in some time, as she moved to the other end of the country. If she were to come home for a day and wanted to hang out, I'm not so sure I'd want to see a movie, so maybe my point still stands. But perhaps many people would see no problem with that, in which case reading should be no less appealing an activity. I suppose it's partially dependent on how much time you have to spend with the person, too. If I had not one, but three whole days with my aforementioned friend, the prospect of seeing a movie together would sound much more enjoyable, though I'd probably opt to watch an old movie from our childhood instead (Ace Ventura, obviously). This is definitely something to think over. All I can say for sure is we'd have to be reading physical books. Fanfiction would have to be a solitary experience for me

    God, that last sentence sounds gross

  4. I suppose it depends on individual taste as well. If I'm reading a Discworld novel and my mother is reading historical fiction, neither of us would care to hear the first thing about each other's book. I suppose that if you and a friend can agree on a movie that you'd both enjoy, you could select books that would interest both, as well. And given what books Chris has mentioned before, he seems to have eclectic enough taste that it may never be an issue. I'd also say that some activities are time-dependent. You can't necessarily go out to a movie, or go see a sporting event, or attend a concert at any given time. Since it can be done at any time, reading is more easily relegated to times when there's less opportunity cost.

    Personally, I find it more productive to handle literary discussions all at once: read the book on my own first, then discuss it with a friend at some other time, making the interaction more condensed, which is nice if that person's availability to you is limited.

    Here's why I think movies are different: it's a shared experience. yes, in our culture, you don't discuss the movie while it's happening, at least not on the theater. But you wouldn't do that while on a roller coaster either, I'd wager. There is still the shared-experience aspect of laughing at the same scenes, jumping at the same frights, and thrilling at the same action scenes. You can see the other person reacting, and so still get that interaction, depending on the type of movie, I suppose. And, unlike a book, stopping to discuss a movie in the middle means you're missing some of it. To make the closest comparison, I guess a similar experience would be reading the same book at the same time, and somehow eliminating the need to account for different reading speeds. Add to that the fact that reading produces a much more personal interpretation than watching. You're not going to get through a novel in the time it takes to watch a movie, or have that much to discuss about most things you could read that quickly.

    Wow. I ended up rambling. Anyway, just like you wouldn't take a friend who only likes baseball to an NBA game, sharing reading would seem to work best with people who enjoy it on the same level, have similar tastes to some degree, and aren't forgoing a more constant interaction, considering the scarcity of the time they have available.

    1. Taste has never really been an issue--my mom reads lots of things which I have little interest in (classical Russian literature, for example. I'm sure I could find some that I enjoy, but as a genre, I think it's safe to say it's not my thing), but just because I may not want to slog through the whole book doesn't mean there aren't exerpts I might not be interested in. Just yesterday in fact, Mom quoted to me a passage from a story which I'd never have picked to read on my own, but the passage itself was wonderful (I can't remember the name of the book, but the passage was about naming a small army of pets. I'll ask her what it was later, I think, and if I remember I'll post it here for reference).

      The roller-coaster comparison is one I didn't think of, and one which I think is probably apt. Personally, going to a theatre alone and going with a friend works out to about the same experience for me, insofar as the movie viewing itself is concerned (discussing the movie is another matter, but that could just as easily happen after the two of us watched it separately), but I wouldn't be interested in going to a theme park by myself. I can see why someone would feel the same way about movies.

  5. My wife and I read together all the time, sharing thoughts on books we have in common or even whole sections from works we know the other isn't going to read but will enjoy a summary.

    Then there are the road trips. Audiobooks and the Kindle text-to-speech feature create the second layer of our adventures. We can even enjoy fanfic together!

  6. When Animorphs came out, me and a friend just loved it to death. The thing was, the library only had one copy, so we had to share it. Literally share it. We would read a page together at a time, and then flip it when we were both done.

    I learned to read very quickly as a result. XD

    Something about forcing yourself to read at a different person's pace is pretty frustrating. Especially when you're both racing to get to the end of the page so that you don't hold up the other person when they're done. It just creates an endless cycle of reading faster and faster and faster, and soon you are practically skimming rather than reading.

    (It was really satisfying when we got to certain scenes together, though. OMG! DID THAT JERK KILL TOBIAS? HE'D BETTER NOT'VE! *mutal raging*)

    My suggestion? Read the same book, but get two copies! :D

    1. There's no way I could read the same copy with someone. I enjoy taking my time, and oftentimes will re-read passages. Rushing through a book would just ruin the experience for me

      I haven't read Animorphs in years! I still remember daydreaming about being a Controller and rising through the ranks to Visser One... I was a weird kid

    2. I remember when I was a little kid, we all used to play Animorphs in the playground, because our school library was full of the book series, so everyone had read it. And we mixed it with other things too, so one guy would be an andalite, and someone else would be playing Goku from DBZ, and they'd fight. It was great.

  7. To each their own.
    I consider watching a movie to be an extremely social activity. Yes my friends and I do not actively tend to engage each other while watching, but there's this sense of it being vicarious, knowing that someone you know familiarly is experiencing the same thing at the same time as you. Laughing at the same joke, being thrilled by the same fight scene or stunt, cringing at the same bloody murder, etc. Shared experiences give a sense of bonding. Who wants to ride a rollercoaster alone?
    Then after the movie, it becomes a topic of conversation, giving out opinions and takes on what we just watched.

    As for reading, I get my social fix with that the same way. Not reading together, physically, but the connection I feel with someone who has read or is reading the same story as me. And again the direct social aspect comes from being able to discuss and reminisce on what we read in casual conversation.

    It's one of the reasons I comment on stories so often. It's more often than not an attempt to engage others in thinking about and discussing what was read instead of just making a statement.
    I love chatting with other proofreaders or readers in the comments of a story or on a GDoc. Just having experienced teh same media creates this social bridge between people.

    1. Watching a movie can definitely be a social experience. My dad and I still watch the new Syfy original movie together once a month or so (and to John Perry: YESSS Megashark vs. Giant Octopus!), and that's definitely a social activity. But like you and your friends, we're chatting over the top of it, cracking jokes, and otherwise engaging one another. That's not something I can do at a theatre. I'll cop to the vicarious pleasure bit, though; see my response above.

    2. Ye. I love watching movies, television shows and youtube videos with friends over Skype. I live very far away from some of my friends, and it's the only way to experience these things with them. Also, having a chat right there means that you can react to everything, have your friend react at the same time, and then it doesn't mess with you enjoying whatever you're watching. (Or it could just be me. I personally find it very distracting when people talk during movies. It makes it hard to hear whatever's happening. However, I can read much faster than anyone can talk, so it only takes a split second to read and comprehend a text response, and just a few seconds to reply.)

      I have enjoyed watching movies online with friends far more than I would have if we'd watched them in person. That live-action Death Note movie wouldn't have been as nearly great if me and a friend couldn't squeal with glee at each other every time L did something adorable (and omg, when he eats that giant green dick and does the thumbs up sign I almost combusted at how cute he was :D). If we did that in real life, I would find myself quickly getting annoyed. lol

  8. I can't say I ever read like that, Chris. If I ever read a book, it needed to be by myself, without distractions. Lets me get more immersed in the setting, and the quiet helps me better visualise it.

    Besides, my mother reads both the Twilight and Fifty Shades series unironically. I don't think she and I share the same tastes in literature.

    1. Your mom too? Mine got Fifty Shades from the library for me, not knowing what it was (no, I have no interest in the book, she just heard it was really popular). She decided to read it herself and has been telling me it's not that bad and is really well written, but I have trouble believing it'd be any better than Sons of the Stars *shudders*

  9. Pascoite already said this, but the big difference between reading as a social activity and movie-going as a social activity is that with the movie, you both witness the same thing. You take part in a shared experience which you can both comment on and talk about afterwards. With reading, you have to summarize what you just read, which requires explaining background, and even then your friend will likely not have a full appreciation for why you found that entertaining, unless you have a very close relationship.

    Plus, sometimes you can interact during a movie. Not one playing in a theater, but at home. A great activity I do with my sister is watch terrible movies together and make fun of the dumb parts. There are few better bonding experiences me and my sister have shared than watching Birdemic or Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.

    1. Want a bad movie?
      Check our Space Truckers starring Dennis Hopper. Is has a pirate trying to start his cybernetic penis with a ripcord.
      It also has monster designs that inspired Mass Effect.