I’ve always been a voracious reader. During my Midwestern childhood summers, my sister and I would even compete to see who could finish the most pages between the end of one school year and the start of the next (I won twice, then she beat me once I got a summer job at a local fast food joint). Point being, books have shaped who I am, and they continue to do so. Reading is my passion and a core tenet of my identity. But I’ve always had trouble understanding those who have a different relationship to reading—friends who rarely read for pleasure, acquaintances who prefer to read a few nonfiction books each year, or people who don’t experience the same joyful wonder that I get from immersing myself in a fantasy world.
I struggled to relate with folks because of my own misconceptions and presumptions about their relationship to reading. Only by reforming my own relationship to the hobby and by making it a more open, welcoming passion, did I start to notice changes in my behavior and in the way people reacted to my recommendations.
Last week, I was enjoying board games with friends. I struck up a side conversation with one of my buddies about the possibility of a book club with a few other friends. I even had a book in mind: Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld.
“How long is it?” the friend asked.
“About 500 pages.”
“Oh, that’s not so bad.”
That’s when a separate friend, more of a non-reader, overheard and said “500 pages is a TON of reading.”
I locked eyes with the first friend, the reader. We’ve both been on a huge Stormlight Archive kick; each of us had finished Rhythm of War earlier that day (we had an unspoken competition going, and he finished ahead of me by about three hours).
I’ve had some version of this conversation numerous times, especially as I’ve begun to share my love for reading more widely, including with friends who read maybe two or three books per year (or no books at all, for that matter). I expect these types of interactions will continue in perpetuity: Some things never change, and non-reader friends reacting with mouths agape and shock on their faces at the prospect of reading books that clock in at 500 (or 800, or 1200+) pages seems to be one of those things. And again, it’s something I’ve always struggled to understand—for me, the higher the page count, the more time I get to spend utterly absorbed in another world…what’s not to love? I used to think there must be something wrong, something these friends just weren’t getting…
However, in the past year or so, something changed. I have noticed a transformation in myself, in how I relate to my friends—readers and non-readers alike. What started out as a simple experiment—a desire to start my own home library and share it with anyone who might be interested—has made me a better listener, and by extension, a better friend.
I currently have 400-plus books in my home library (I’ve read about 20% of them, while the other 80% remain on my endless TBR stack). In previous apartments, my tomes sat tucked away in extra rooms or dark corners. My book organization strategy? Find free space, put books there.
When my partner and I bought our first home in 2020, it came with two massive built-in bookshelves smack dab in the middle of the living room. These shelves were among the main reasons we were drawn to the house in the first place, and we spent many of the first hours in our new home organizing books and placing them just so on the shelves. We opted for color-coding on one shelf, and series groupings on the other. Many have chided our choices, but we love how our shelves look, and organizational preferences among bookworms are intensely personal, anyway.
In the time since we moved in, friends and guests have begun showing more interest in reading. I could chalk it up to osmosis through sheer proximity: If you’re in a room packed with hundreds of novels, wouldn’t you be inclined to ask about them?
I credit one friend, perhaps inspired by the new surroundings, with sending me into the full-on book recommendation frenzy that continues to this day. He had a history of poking fun at my love for reading, but one day instead of joking around, he said, “I’ve been thinking about reading more. Do you have any recommendations?” Yes, in fact, I had many recommendations! Hundreds of them. I asked him all about his tastes, previous favorites, interests in pacing, plot, character, setting, and themes. We settled on Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, and he reports that he’s enjoying it, though the going is a tad slow.
That interaction sparked a new idea, one that has since taken hold and shaped the way I view reading. Instead of a personal, private hobby, books have become a bigger part of my social life and how I interact with the people I care about. My new perspective on reading as a social and unifying hobby first took shape in the form of “Chateau Rush” library cards and library ledger. The premise is simple: it’s a library card, but for my home stash. My friends turn their card in when they want to borrow a book, then leave a review (complete with gold star stickers) on their very own library ledger page, which they can decorate as they please.
The system works on many levels. It’s a way for my friends to get involved with reading and with the many books I have at home without the pressure or deadlines of, say, a book club. It’s a conversation starter and an easy in to talk about books. And it’s plain fun to see how different people decorate their ledger pages to reflect their tastes and personalities.
And somewhere along the way, my lending library and my ever-expanding collection of novels has started to shape how I approach friendships, both within the specific context of reading and in general.
In the past, I admittedly behaved a bit like a crazed prophet, shouting about my hobby to disinterested passersby with overzealous admonishments about how reading is an excellent hobby. Of course, anybody unwilling to give it a chance must be ignoring a fundamental truth of life! I would make them see, and convert them to my bookish ways. And of course, I was devoid of understanding and empathy in this approach. On multiple occasions, I’m sure I was outwardly judgmental of those who wished not to be lectured about the glory of reading.
Since the advent of my home library system, I’ve reshaped my outlook, and it’s made me a better friend in precisely two ways:
- I have worked to become a better listener as I strive to make better recommendations.
- I have learned when to shut up about books.
When I find a friend who responds well to a recommendation, I am more open to their opinions and receptive to their words. I’m truly listening to what they thought about a book, how it made them feel.
Thus far, TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea has been the most widely loved book among my friends, and it remains perennially recommendable. Further, it serves as a great benchmark for my non-reader friends, especially those who balk at anything remotely fantastical.
When friends read Cerulean Sea or any other book I’ve recommended, I know that I have to be open to disagreement. I have to be willing to hear opinions that may not fit with my own, and take them in stride. It’s happened with Mistborn already (one friend is struggling hard with the high fantasy genre, and I’ve had to be content with her pushing it to the side in favor of other recommendations). Another friend can’t get into Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time, one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels, and I’ve been able to hone my next recommendations for him (Blake Crouch’s more grounded sci-fi, Dark Matter, is next on my list for him).
Tastes differ as much as people’s personalities, and learning to recommend books to friends has helped me better understand the differences that make each of my friends unique. I’ve started to appreciate the diversity of palates and interests among my friends. I’ve also strengthened my connections with longtime friends thanks to conversations about the themes and characters in a book we’ve both read.
In return, I’ve noticed a certain hunger for more stories from these book-curious friends. They leave reviews in the ledger and seek out their next read among my shelves with great care. We build trust as a cohort of readers. It’s an exciting evolution to be a part of, and I’m constantly bringing more friends and acquaintances into the fold.
As successful as this experiment has been, it’s obviously not going to appeal to everyone—and as enthusiastic as I am about books (and particularly the books I love most), I haven’t always accepted the fact that some people don’t share my enthusiasm, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s not a personality flaw, or something that needs to be fixed—we’re allowed to have different passions. As much as lending books has made me a better listener in many ways, the occasions where people aren’t interested have made me reflect on my attitudes and reactions in a new light.
Recently, a few friends were over, and I asked if they had library cards yet. They shook their heads, and I gave them each a Chateau Rush library card. They proceeded to make fun of me for 90 seconds, then leave the ignored cards on the couch when they left.
I took it in stride and embraced an important lesson: It’s not my job to proselytize books, or to impose my hobby on others. Books shouldn’t be forced on people. Those who wince at the very thought of reading (probably ingrained in them by years of required reading in high school and college) don’t want to be put on the spot—they have to come around on their own. Over the course of many months as a home library lender, I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. Rather than react with disdain or feel rejected over for friends’ lack of interest or negative responses, I just wait for people to approach me.
Those less-than-enthusiastic responses made me realize that in the past, I probably would have been judgmental in those situations, maybe holding a small grudge and harboring a bit of resentment as a result. Now, I genuinely try to do better, in the simple understanding that not everyone wants to read for fun, and there are other ways of finding common ground.
I’m still honing the system and learning to recognize the cues best suited for a Chateau Rush Library pitch. For now, I’m content to wait for others to notice my book collection and bring it up with a glint in their eye. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but figuring out my friends’ likes and dislikes (and fully accepting that not everyone views a 1000-page doorstopper with the same glee that I do) has been enlightening—and hey, maybe if we keep it up, that book club will actually work out one of these days.
It’s an ongoing journey, though, and I am keeping my eyes and ears open, constantly reframing how I share my hobby with others. For now, I’m thankful for the incremental steps toward self-awareness and self-improvement that my home library has sparked. Here’s to hoping it’ll continue making me a better friend, a better listener, and perhaps a more understanding person over time.
Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live or on Twitter @ColeRush1. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science-fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are: The Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House In The Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.