I just got back from a family vacation, where, despite my abiding love for my extended family, I found it kind of difficult to engage with others. Part of the problem was the absence of Rhian, who couldn't make it this year and on whom I've come to depend for smoothing out the edges of my sometimes, erm, imperfect personality, especially when there are a lot of other people around.
But sometimes I wonder if reading has sort of semi-ruined my relationship to the physical world, and the world of real people. Of course, reading and writing have long been my primary way of engaging with the world, and on balance, books have represented a positive influence. But I also fear that reading has turned me into an introvert, or at least allowed me to overindulge the part of me that is naturally introverted. I envision myself whiling away my declining years on an easy chair, with a big pile of Dickens on the table beside me, like some frightened pensioner in a Ruth Rendell novel. (There I go again, casting potential reality as a version of fiction!)
Needless to say, I wasn't the only one retreating into books over the past week--my parents, kids, cousins, uncle and aunt are all pretty dedicated readers as well. And everyone got along great. But for some reason I kept feeling a little guilty about my desire (often deep and intense) to withdraw into the imagination. And now that I'm home, I think about how completely the literary world has devoured my social life. I work with people who think about books all the time, I'm raising people who think about books all the time, I socialize with people in my reading group, and I find that half the conversations I have are about books and writing.
Of course, I love living like this--it's a blast. But aren't we supposed to strive to know all kinds of different people, with different perspectives? A writer likes to think he has a broader perspective than the average joe--we should be able to think our way (if not actually live our way) into different social and cultural groups.
And yet it's books themselves we end up talking to friends about--the writing of them, the reading of them, the publishing of them, the habits of their creators. Admit it, litpersons--the first thing you look for when you walk into the home of somebody you just met is the teetering piles of books. And when you don't see them, a little part of you starts writing off the relationship (so to speak).
Which is it? Have books made me, or have books ruined me?