Social skills for the bookishly inclined

I rather imagine if you have made it here, to this little blog floating around in the immense ocean of cyberspace, it is because you read. So welcome, welcome, I say. I like readers. You are my people. Just as a man can lounge over some sticky airport bar and begin a conversation with a perfect stranger on the outcome of the Ranger’s game,  I will quite happily strike up a conversation with anyone about what they are currently reading. The scowling young man on gate-duty at the beach who is plowing his way through all the classics? Couldn’t bear me until I commented on his Dostoevsky.  The woman in the dry-cleaners who loves Game of Thrones? We are both secretly from the North. Even my mother-in-law, who, let’s face it, has not entirely forgiven me for stealing her baby out from under her nose and then, dear reader, marrying him, seems to forget my flaws during a good natter about Hercule Poirot.

I suspect that in real life I have horrible manners. I can’t recall people’s names. I never ever remember to write thank you cards. I forget birthdays and sometimes when I am invited over for dinner I find myself alone with some other locquaious, easy-pouring individual at the dinner table while everyone else is tidying up in the kitchen. But I do know what you are reading. I know what you have read and, if you have been stupid enough to invite me over to your house, I know what is on your bookshelf, and ergo,  I have a pretty good idea of what is in your head. I know if you are far cleverer than me (obscure philosophy texts) or just a pretty nitwit dreaming of shagging the handsome gardener who turns out to be a divorced hedge-fund millionaire environmentalist on Nantucket. And because I know this, I am a good dinner companion. I have something to say about everything.

It is actually a social skill I have been honing since I learnt to read. Not long after this Great Awakening my family moved town, and then finally countries. I befriended people because of,  and over,  the books they had read, or sent me towards.  I actually had something to talk to boys about due to my interest in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Books were a neutral territory, a place beyond the parameters of our lives, but they were also like periscopes into the mind’s of others. I remember my mother giving me some dating advice in my late teens. Men, she advised me, love to talk about themselves. So when you go out for dinner ask them loads of questions. And order the cheapest thing on the menu. And so I did. Spaghetti Napolitana followed by an inquisition. Whilst I am sure my culinary abstemiousness was appreciated, I probably also managed to frighten off a fair number of suitors with my penetrating interrogation about what was on their bedside table. It was probably not what my mother was intending but looking back, I realize it was an excellent tactic, almost Darwinian. Only the most stalwart were going to stick with me.

Yes, books have been my stepping stones and my life-ropes. They have taught me to uncover those strands that bind us, they have carried me through heartbreaks, and long dull hours. They have made me brave, and adventurous and empathetic, sometimes intellectual and innately curious. The have imbued me with good social skills despite my ghastly manners because aren’t the most well-mannered people of all, such as the Queen, those that show an interest in the others?

So in this horrible, uncouth world, let’s rally and read on. On the beaches, and in the fields, and in the forests, and on the trains, and tucked up with our children in their beds. Let’s start conversations and uncover our shared loves. And let’s explain to those children that while thank you notes (important as they are) are forgotten within minutes, good books are like tattoos. They mark a period in your life, they help you identify with others, and while you might see them differently as you get older, you are pretty much going to carry them around with you forever.

Copyright Sam Grieve 6/24/15


  1. I enjoyed your story “The Other Woman” in Daily Science Fiction. Your prose is quite lovely. Not to mention, I enjoy learning new tidbits of folklore. I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

    As to reading, the books I am currently immersed in are “Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights” by Marina Warner (non-fiction), “Songs for Ophelia” by Theodora Goss (poetry), and “Sing Me Your Scars” by Damien Angelica Walters (speculative fiction). If you haven’t already read it, you might enjoy Damien’s short story “The Floating Girls: A Documentary.” I, on the other hand, am taking your advice and am adding Ann Leckie to my reading list. Thank you for the suggestion.


    • Hi Carina, thank you so much for your suggestions and also your follow on Facebook – very very much appreciated. I would love to know what you think of the Ann Leckie. I am trying to read more science fiction but my soul lists heavily towards magic realism, speculative fiction (and general literary fiction). I will definitely seek out all your suggestions. I have always been a big fan of Marina Warner but I have never come across Walter’s work…so I am extremely excited about your recommendation. I am assuming you have read Kelly Link? She has a new book of short stories out which is on my list too… and I also cannot recommend Susanna Clark highly enough… Oh, and listen to the Ann Leckie story on Escape Pod! It is great!

      All the best, Sam

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