When a friend recommends a book to me, I take it seriously, especially when the recommendation is not just, “This is a great story.” When I hear words like, “This novel impacted my faith,” or “I thought about this book for months,” I know I’m dealing with something much more delicate.
When I read a book on a friend’s recommendation, I not only learn about new characters or find an author’s voice, but I also catch a glimpse of my friend, the fellow reader. Reading a beloved book of a friend is like being trusted with a secret, almost as though I’m having a conversation through the shared words, and the experience is, in some ways, more private than an actual conversation over coffee or at dinner.
Reading is a solitary activity for the most part, but being a book lover is more about community. Trusting a friend with a treasured book involves a level of vulnerability. The book’s words become reflections of the reader as well as the author. When we say, “Oh, please read this book. I absolutely loved it,” we are sharing a part of ourselves with another person. Books are intimate.
When I’m in a crowd, especially a crowd of new faces, I listen for book titles dropped in conversation as touchstones. Somehow, I learn more about a person when I hear books they loved or hated. I’m not saying I never like someone who doesn’t like the same books I like. I have friends who despise Jane Austen or love Thomas Pynchon. We are still friends. I don’t disown people because of book preferences. But, when I hear that familiar quote from a touchstone book, I know I’ve found a kindred spirit.