There’s a Button for That: How to Make Bookish Friends

Before I went to college in Virginia, I grew up in a smallish town in New Hampshire. New England is a funhouse for literary nerds. All within a few hours of each other—some, just a few minutes—are Louisa May Alcott’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, Robert Frost’s, Mark Twain’s and Emily Dickinson’s homes (among many others), which you can tour to varying degrees. Until I left, it never occurred to me that other areas might not be so steeped in books and literature. My time in college was spent in a small school with a focus on creative writing, where books and literature were the crux of most of my relationships and conversations. Then, I moved north to Washington, D.C. and the difference was stark. Suddenly, there was a phrase worth googling: How to make bookish friends.

I was—am—an unfortunate combination of shy and introverted. D.C., for all its benefits, is not the most bookish community I’ve lived in, despite having twenty-six-branch public library system, being the home of the Library of Congress, and featuring a handful of bookstores. And because politicking requires a lot of networking and, let’s face it, extroversion, finding friends with whom I could comfortably spend time with was rough. So I was presented with the problem of wanting friends and conversation in my new home, and not having any natural ways to make those happen. I attended a few library events here and there and made connections with coworkers across my three jobs. But it wasn’t enough. So, I came up with a plan.

Rather than googling “how to make bookish friends,” I put myself on a mission to find out where I could get a small number of buttons made, inexpensively, and of my own design. I picked one of the many available vendors, threw together a color scheme, font, and phrase, and waited for my order to arrive.

The buttons showed up not too long after and I immediately attached mine to the strap of my bag. I took to carrying the bag—and, therefore, the button—with me everywhere: on the bus, the Metro, the sidewalk, the grocery store, the library, on and on. Sometimes, the button would be hidden by the lapels of my jacket, but I did my best to keep it visible. Finally, one day on the train home from work, someone asked me with a mischievous smile and a gesture toward my button.

“What Are You Reading?”

I was holding my Kindle, so it wasn’t so simple as lifting my reading material to reveal the title.

“I’m rereading Harry Potter,” I told her. “I’m on Goblet of Fire.”

We chatted for a couple of stops about fantasy and how we felt about different big-name series and our conversation ended when she got off at the first stop in Virginia.

How to Make Bookish Friends

I’ve since had one other person ask me what I was reading while wearing the button, and a coworker (a librarian) once commented on how she liked the idea. It has not quite been the success I thought it would, but I still get a small thrill every time I use the bag the button is pinned to.

But even if the button hasn’t led me to any long-lasting bookish friendships directly, it’s reminded me that “What are you reading?” is always a great conversation starter. Whether I’m seeing someone on the train with a book (and I maintain it’s only acceptable to interrupt a person reading in public to briefly ask what they’re reading with the intent of finding out what they’re reading—not with the intent of getting a date—or to warn the person they are in imminent danger), meeting an old friend and stuck for conversation topics, or want a way to reconnect with someone, “What are you reading?” is a beautiful way to kindle communication.

Plus, while someone may not ask me a direct question when they see the button, the button still serves as a signal to my interests. Whether other people have approached me as a result of that, I don’t know, but I think it’s entirely possible.

The button hasn’t caused me any trouble so far, though that was something I considered—would strange men see this as an opening to harass me? So far, I haven’t encountered anything like that. If an “Ask me what I’m reading” button is something you’re interested in to up your bookish friend game, I recommend picking a vendor and getting to work—or see if your library has a button making event coming up.

 

Looking for more on bookish friendships? Check out Use a Book to Stay in Touch With Friends, and The 5 Stages of Recommending a Book to a Friend Who Will Never Read It.

Do you like podcasts like This American Life, RadioLab, or Planet Money? Annotated is kinda like those, but for books. Go here to find out more, or click the image below:
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