01 August 2011


Reading as a Life Challenge

You'd think that a lit nerd would have some decent social skills, right? I mean, literature is just brimming with complex characters, tangled relationships, witty dialogue, sharp satires of society, and insight into the human condition. How could a bookworm fail to fit in?

Yet it happens all the time . . . and I'm just talking about myself!

This is what comes of one's having been trained to read anything. One will often say anything, too.

Two of the Best Novels I've Ever Read
(But just try discussing Alex's ultraviolence or Renton's public toilet in a mixed crowd.)

Last weekend, I was at a party with some people I hadn't seen in a while. As we brought each other up to date on the varied comedies of errors that are our individual lives, I finally got to tell them about having been trapped in an elevator at the start of July, with a man who breeds fighting roosters for a living and even has a weekly TV show that is a big hit among his fellow sabongeros all over the country.

One chicken story led to another--because, believe it or not, everyone has at least one--until someone raised his glass in a toast and said, "F*** chickens!"

It was funny rather than offensive; and everyone's laughter and clinking glasses were--now that I've thought about it--signs that the group felt done with the subject of chickens and wanted to move on.

But I'm a woefully literal lit nerd who was once a Lit major as well, and the word association just got the better of my booze addled mind. So I said:

"You know, in the Mario Vargas Llosa novel The Return of the Hero, there are characters who actually do that to a chicken."

The entire room fell silent. My closest friend got up and walked out.

Now, I had enough wit to realise that I had said the wrong thing and enough grace (Deo gratias!) to keep talking until I had kicked enough words over that literary tidbit for my remaining friends--the kindhearted souls--to pretend they had never heard it.

I think that had they all been fellow lit nerds or Lit majors, the conversation would have segued smoothly into novels with extreme premises or incidents . . . but even then, I'm not sure.

Image Sources: a) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, b) Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh


Risa said...

No! Did that really happen? It's pity when people don't share one's craziness for books. I could see so much of potential in your remark!! I don't think I've ever found myself in a situation of this kind. I've always managed to talk books only with other book nerds... On the few occasions I've made a slip and got weird looks, I've simply enjoyed turning the tables and saying "you poor lost souls. You don't know what you're missing!" ...mean, isn't it?

But this brings me to a question - do bookworms frequently feel apologetic for reading when among non-readers?

Lesa said...

Like Risa said, lots of potential-- and it doesn't seem that weird of a remark to me considering the conversation. It isn't like you said you knew a real person who did that. Or was it the fact you mentioned a book that threw them?

Shaz said...

Thanks for helping me start my day with a laugh.

Have to ask - what book features a chicken ... er, cluck?

In answer to Risa's question: yes, I do find myself apologising for reading in general and especially for reading certain genres. I suspect it comes from growing up in a subculture that didn't value books and viewed reading as a waste of time.

Syrin said...

It's sad to say, but I find most people are very intimidated by people who are smarter than them, and as such would rather treat an intelligent remark with disdain or silence rather than with a "tell me more!"

At a family gathering this spring, they were discussing dry ice, and I tried to be helpful by pointing out what it was made from, and my own father said to me, "No one cares about that!" Well, excuse me, Dad, but I do!

Enbrethiliel said...


Risa -- Unfortunately, it really did happen, just last Saturday night. =(

Now that you mention it, I usually don't talk about books with the friends who were at that party. I mean, just look what happened when I finally did! ;-)

Your question is interesting because it ties in to another thought I had after that party. Do you know the way some people think that a character's beliefs are automatically an author's beliefs? Well, perhaps they also think that a character's beliefs are also a reader's beliefs, if the reader seems enthusiastic enough about the story! I suppose bookworms who feel like apologising for their reading are just surrounded by people who can't draw that distinction between characters and readers.

Lesa -- I guess it was just a socially inappropriate thing to say . . . but I still don't know why the "F*** chickens!" toast was acceptable while my bit of literary trivia wasn't. In fairness to my friends, though, they didn't know who Llosa was and couldn't put what I said in the right context. They probably thought his book was some porn novel! =P

Shaz -- Clucking chickens! LOL! I think I have my new F-word substitute. Thanks! ;-)

The book is The Return of the Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa. Happy reading! LOL!!!

Syrin -- Come to think of it, there was one person at that party who would have greeted that remark with a "tell me more" . . . but he was in another room at the time. He reads more than I do: everything from comic books to Jim Butcher's novels--and he even read the entire Twilight series so that he could take the mickey out of it more honestly and effectively. ;-) The friend who walked out on me walks out on him a lot. (LOL!) But he really doesn't mean any offense; he's just sharing what he knows.

Your dad's reaction to your dry ice information reminds me of that friend who does the walking out. She'll sometimes stay and try to change the subject. She wouldn't actually say, "No one cares about that"--but everything about her would imply it. And she has a way of doing it that doesn't make me feel like I've made an intelligent remark (even if an allusion to a Nobel laureate certainly tops that "toast" to chickens), but that I've been rude to people by bringing something into the conversation that they wouldn't be able to relate to. Is that what you're talking about, too?

antiaphrodite said...

The entire room fell silent.

?!! I do wonder if this was because you mentioned a book.

I still don't know why the "F*** chickens!" toast was acceptable while my bit of literary trivia wasn't.


Enbrethiliel said...


I'm actually still scrabbling around for explanations. Perhaps they thought I was saying that the guy who proposed the (non-literal) "F*** chickens!" toast was actually talking about the (literal) action in the novel! =P

Which of course I wasn't!

Syrin said...

I think my dad was suggesting that I was being a know-it-all, which is pretty close to what your friend was saying. They wanted to have a light and fun conversation, not a science lesson. So I think the same could be said in your recent case: They wanted to tell silly stories about chickens, not get a literary lesson.

Personally, I'm perfectly happy with having both, since both science and literature are as interesting to me as funny stories... but I guess not everyone feels the same way. :P

antiaphrodite said...

Even if you were, I'd have thought the group would turn the whole thing into a jokefest, especially since y'all weren't exactly sober :-P The awkward silence reaction is puzzling. But perhaps, as mentioned, they didn't want a non-silly conversation.

Belfry Bat said...

I think it's entirely possible that the word in question didn't trigger any of the more colourful verb equivalents in anyone's thought but yours: it has become a tired and careless word --- rather like gay --- and its meaning has become as dull as senseless violence.

What I would suggest as having happened, then, is that you somehow reminded them all that words do in fact signify in more-or-less agreed ways, and made them actually think about the very thing they had pronounced, if not quite said.

That, and you accidentally suggested (by example) that it was a thinkable thing to do. It's funny how people seem often to take examples for suggestions. What happens, for instance, if I say "Regensberg"? What if it's "Hooray, Regensberg!"? Or if it's "Regensberg, boo!"?

Anyways. I shouldn't give up on thinking, though, nor nudging others to do so: keep up the good work!

Enbrethiliel said...


Syrin -- I don't think it was the literary lesson as much as the shocking imagery. =P But shocking imagery wrapped up in a literary lesson seems to an instant buzzkill.

Antiaphrodite -- Another possibility you just made me think of is that there were six of us in that group, with varying levels of tipsiness. Our "common denominator" in conversation would have been much lower than normal.

Belfry Bat -- Well, there's a thought! I wonder what would have happened if I had let the silence drag on a bit while they were thinking about it.

The Mike said...

I've been there...but it's usually because I'm showing people a movie that should not be in a group setting.

One of my favorite recent awkward nerd moments was when a friend decided we should get together and watch horror movies - an idea that always warms Mike's heart - and I decided I should recommend an extremely brutal French horror film I figured he would enjoy. What I didn't know is that more people were invited.

And yet, with other films in my satchel of horror (that's a literal thing, BTW), I pressed forward telling them this movie was a good idea.

I think my favorite part of the evening is when one of my stunned friends - even though he's the guy who loves watching YouTube clips of violence in Robocop and Total Recall on repeat - looked at me stunned and asked "So...you've seen this before? You just sit in your apartment eating chips and watching THIS?"

My work there was done. :)

Lesa said...

Hmm-- back again-- it is such an interesting puzzler.

The walking out friend and the fact she implies that you are rude for injecting intelligent remarks bugs me-- Why does she have an issue with it? Because it is her issue not yours.

Do you ever inject bookish remarks just to get her goat and amuse yourself? I know I would but I'm contrary that way. ;o)

And I also thought the same as Antiaphrodite-- A big jokefest would have made more sense in a tipsy situation than silence.

It is usually hysterically funny when a friend says something that is such a caricature of themselves especially if everyone is drinking, Why didn't they erupt into laughter after the pregnant pause? Waiting for a cue card, perhaps?

But, you know, the silence is very funny too-- the whole scenario could be on an episode of The Big Bang Theory!

Enbrethiliel said...


The Mike -- I'll bet I know what that "extremely brutal" French Horror film is--and if I'm right, then the friend who got up and walked out in my anecdote always remembers it as the reason she'll never take another Horror recommendation from me again! (Bwahahahahaha!)

It's interesting to me that the ladies who've chimed in are saying, "You didn't do anything wrong" (which was already what I was thinking), while the gentlemen's message is more of, "You did something really good!" LOL! ;-)

Lesa -- I really think she just thought it was inappropriate for the situation. And maybe my other friends didn't laugh because it seemed like too serious a topic to laugh at?

This obviously isn't the first time I've been out of step with the rest of a group I thought I was getting along with. It usually has something to do with my taking something one way when everyone else knew it was meant another way.

(Did I ever tell you about the time I was teaching in a school where even the teachers had to wear uniforms--one for every day of the week? Due to huge budget cuts on the prom, which the teachers had to chaperone, everyone started saying the week leading to the event that it had become so low-key that the teachers should wear the Monday uniform instead of our formal wear. So of course, I showed up in my Monday uniform . . . to the disbelief of all the other teachers who were in party clothes. =P And if they could have spoken as one, the reaction would have been: "It was such an absurd idea! How did you not know it was a joke???" I think something similar happened at the party last Saturday night: my friends thought I was taking a joke too seriously and too literally.)

The Mike said...

I absolutely think it's something good! People don't get how the superfan (aka: nerd, but it sounds better the other way) brain works, and you gotta push the envelope when you can. If they don't get it...well, hopefully they will over time.

Lesa said...

Oh, E, must have been embarrassing but it is funny--- and at least you didn't show up in a sexy bunny suit-- that is what usually happens in the movies. And I'm thinking you need your own sitcom or reality show...

Enbrethiliel said...


The Mike -- The "superfan" brain: I like the sound of that! =)

Nerds shall take over the world!!!

Lesa -- LOL!!! I'm too boring in real life to have a camera crew following me around, but I'd like to think I'd pick up a cult following as a supporting character on someone else's reality show. =P

mrsdarwin said...

I want to hear the story about the elevator now!

Darwin said...

At least you didn't come out with the inevitable lame joke, "What, so which came first, the f*ing chicken or the egg?"

Enbrethiliel said...


Mrs. Darwin -- I think I should e-mail you that one! Thanks for the link. =)

Darwin -- That actually might have been better received than what I did say. =P