Artifacts that tie us together

I have really enjoyed reading and contributing to Uncommon this year, so I was honored when Brian asked me to write one of the year-end essays for the dispatch. Each one looked at listening, watching, and reading in turn. Here’s what I shared on reading:

I dreamt last night that I met Adriane Tomine. I had a copy of one of his graphic novels, but what I really wanted him to autograph was my framed New Yorker cover “Missed Connections.”

I can’t explain the dream, nor am I sure that I know what Tomine really looks like in person. But I just got back from a visit to New York where I was reminded of the image while riding the F train, with its vintage orange seats.

I have always loved this illustration. I think it’s meant to suggest something melancholy—the missed opportunity for connection, strangers passing each other on different trains, reading the same book.

But it’s also always stuck with me for the glimmer of a shared connection in that ephemeral moment. Books are the things we reference to start a conversation. They are shorthand for complex ideas, characters, images, contexts. They are the nodes that connect us. They offer common ground.

I realized how important a sense of place in reading was to me when I joined a “flashmob” of internet friends reading books together with 24-Hour Bookclub (spearheaded by Diana, who incidentally also introduced me to the Uncommon community). Sharing glimpses of our reading environment felt like we were all reading together, no matter where we were geographically distributed. And in our tech book club gatherings here in Boston, I’m always fascinated to see the variety of artifacts placed on the table when we come together to talk about our reading experience. The words we read are the same, but our contexts are different.

The books we love are artifacts that tie us together. They are units of culture and of commonality. We just have to look up from our paperbacks and our iPads every once in a while to catch who else is reading along with us. — Sara