Talking about things is important. You can’t grow or develop an idea, get momentum, or create change unless people are thinking about it, and talking about it. At least, not the change that comes from collective will rather than top-down authority. Creative expressions – music, dance, film, books etc – should be part of how a society has a conversation with itself about who it is collectively, what it values and worries about and where it might be going. Talking about books is, therefore, a form of active engagement with wider culture, and it has a healthy side-order of political and social implications.
Talking about books also makes for more interesting conversations. My own life might be quiet and dull this week, and not worth comment but what I’ve been reading opens up whole new worlds. That would be true most weeks. As I type this I am thinking about magical realism in Elen Sentier’s novels, and the Neolithic world view as considered by Nicholas Mann. Often I’d rather talk about ideas I am reading than how this week is more or less a lot like last week.
Talking about books helps authors to sell books. Word of mouth remains the most important way of getting sales in a market that has little advertising budget and seldom pays participants enough to live on. I want to talk about books because I want more people to buy and read books so that more authors have a fighting chance of being able to do their thing and pay the bills without also having to work 60 hour weeks.
However, for this to work, there has to be something to talk about. A book has to leave you wondering, caring about the characters, curious about what happens next, or what happened between the chapters. Perhaps you’ll have something to say about the structure, the language, the representations of race, gender, difference, similarity, emotion… You need something to get your teeth into in order to have a conversation.
Alternatively, you get this:
“Did you see that show on the telly last night?”
“That was really good. I liked the bit when they did the thing.”
“I liked that bit, too.”
Or you get conversations about how Madonna fell off the stage, Miley wasn’t wearing much, Justin has shiny hair. There’s not much to say about a lot of pop music, so we end up talking about whether they are too fat, or old for their fashion choices and how slightly more or less like everything else those fashion choices are. Yet another re-boot film with a minor twist on the entirely familiar theme. Yet another action packed block busting page turner full of explosions and a man doing a thing that wasn’t as impossible as it first looked, or just blithely defied physics, and getting the girl. Unless the experience surprises you and has some depth, it’s not easy to talk about it for more than a sentence.
I don’t think the flow is all one way. While all we do is talk about the scale of the explosions and the realism of the effects, of course the odds of getting a film with an excellent story and beautiful dialogue are slim. If all we talk about with regards to books, is the best sellers, we push towards books designed to be vastly popular and with easy, wide reaching appeal. Easy to market is not the same as good to read.
So, this is an appeal, for the sake of having an inspiring, enriching cultural life. Talk about the good things. Talk about that which you love. That way, there might be a little bit more of it.