An Engaged and Approachable Bookworm

During our Sunday morning perusal of the papers, I saw from across the table this shocking headline:

E-Books Make Readers Less Isolated

Of course I was intrigued. For those of you who don't have the time or energy to read the whole article (although it's not that long), the gist of it is simply that e-readers leave their users more inviting-looking to those around them, and less cut off from the rest of the world. Which, in turn, implies that those who read are, ipso facto, an isolated bunch:

“I think, historically, there has been a stigma attached to the bookworm, and that actually came from the not-untrue notion that, if you were reading, you weren’t socializing with other people.”
I'm sorry, but as a lifetime bookworm - and avid conversationalist - I couldn't disagree more.

First of all, why single out readers? We're no more "isolated" than the man shouting a conversation into his cell phone, the kid playing on her DS or the college student with an iPod on.

That said, I will agree that as a reader, I am not particularly open to strangers striking up conversations with me while I am clearly engrossed in my book. Ask me what I'm reading and I'm likely to show you the spine of the book as an answer - without ever taking my eye from the page. That's a question you can answer yourself, little to no detective work required. But say something interesting, something worth taking my attention, and I will, in the bat of an eye, put down my book and talk. Often about books.

I'm not an unapproachable bookworm, but you best have something worthwhile to say if you plan to interrupt my reading. Maybe that does make me unapproachable to some, or maybe it makes me seem isolated, but I simply cannot agree that bookworms carry a stigma. Books bring us together, not the opposite. If you think differently, I'd say that's your loss.


  1. The book blogging community is an excellent example of destroying that isolation stigma, along with book clubs, etc. And I am in agreement with you as well -- if you're a stranger and we're on the subway or Metro or the T, don't interrupt me if I'm reading a book! That's like the person next to me who's closed their eyes, or the guy across from me playing Bejeweled on his iPhone -- it's the equivalent of putting the Do Not Disturb note on my hotel room door when I'm on business travel. Do Not Disturb!

  2. I agree with Coffee and a Book Chick. The book blogging community is a great example of how "bookworms" are not isolated. And like CAABC, when I'm reading on the T I do not want to talk to anyone. It's also why I wear headphones and do pretty much all I can to ignore everyone around me, as most people on the train do. But just as I don't want people interrupting me, I'm sure those with E-Readers don't want other commuters bothering them.

  3. I think it's interesting to compare this article with the one by Mark Oppenheimer in Slate Magazine a couple weeks ago ( He basically claims that e-books actually make reader MORE anti-social (if they were to begin with..) because they keep the title of the book hidden from view. Strangers don't have the opportunity to casually notice what another person is reading and to strike up a conversation over old favorites or new friends.

  4. I think that the quote can be true if taken really literally. Whilst I am reading a book I am not socialising with other - that's because I am reading my book, der.

    But that doesn't mean that I am not a social person, or that I don't socialise with people while I am not reading.

    Its not like if you were sitting on a train and not reading, that you would normally just strike up random conversations with people.

    So on a micro level I agree with what he is saying - but I don't really understand the point.

    If he is saying more generally that readers aren't social, then I would disagree.

  5. Thank you all for your comments. I agree that reading (and headphones, games, e-readers, etc) send out a general "Do Not Disturb" sign, but bookworms are not by default isolated people.

    AliBird - Thanks for sharing that link! I hadn't seen it, but it's an interesting comparison.

  6. I totally agree! I like to see people reading books because then I can figure out what they're reading without asking them.

  7. I agree with you whole-heartedly. And what makes this guy think that e-readers are more open to interruptions than non e-readers? Reading is reading, in my mind, and no matter what the format I'm not usually thrilled at being interrupted. In a public setting, however, it's going to happen.

    Thanks for sharing this article. It's annoying, but it made for a interesting conversation piece!

  8. Okay, I just read the article, and I have to add another annoying sentence: "Buying literature has become cool again." Gee, I'm so glad to hear that. I was so worried I might NEVER be cool.

  9. Emily - Good catch on the second quote... that is an annoying sentiment indeed.


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