It is usually the bookshelf that gives it away. That was how I often discover that a new friend is not just good company, but also a bookish kindred spirit. We swoon over the same books and chase the latest offerings of the same authors; conversation might twist and turn, but inevitably leads to our latest reads.
It is possible to find bookish kindred spirits in diverse places, from work to the school pick up. Some signs are obvious, others less so.
For one, it was the reference to ‘Gatsby curtains’ made when I was talking about my house renovations, and my plans to use floaty, white curtains. We both knew the scene, and around whom those curtains wafted. Others have emerged while talking about a certain film adaptation of a book, and we have agreed that the book was better. Or when a colleague has left a certain novel on their desk – the first thing my eye is drawn to while walking by.
Sometimes, there are hints of a bookish kindred spirit to be found in unlikely places, where it is difficult to confirm. When commuting to work on the train, I have to hold my tongue when I see someone reading a book that I have loved, for I know as well as anyone that bookish types DO NOT want to be interrupted while reading. However, I wonder at how they are finding it, what other books they have read and what they thought of ‘s Jane Harper’s latest.
I have to admit, I am sharply attuned to those who might prove to be a bookish kindred spirit. If I hear a whisper of anyone adoring The God of Small Things, any rules of ordinary conversation go out the window. We need to talk. And if I ever hear those very words followed by ‘about Kevin’, let’s sit down for a coffee and chat about the nature of evil, responsibility and motherhood ….
You cannot mention Helen Garner without my ears pricking up, and I find myself edging closer to the conversation. A new colleague who used to work for Penguin had barely settled at her desk before I was asking her what Tim Winton was like.
One of the things I enjoy most about book talk is that literature is one of the sources of conversation that is removed from the everyday – while I love talking about the kids, upcoming holidays and whether it is lunch order day, and I can go on ad nauseam about baby and toddler sleeping habits – it is nice to be removed from these practicalities once in a while, and to talk ideas. After all, as an almost-stay-at-home-mum, I am eye-to-eye with these practicalities every day.
Bookish kindred spirits provide an out, with the opportunity to discuss far off places that we have both visited in literature, or personalities that we have not met through our mothers groups.
However, it is sometimes those with bookish preference quite different to our own that can provide the greatest escape, offering an introduction to books far removed from any you would have chosen yourself.
A friend recently spoke to me in rapturous tones of book about the inner workings of the Richmond Football Club. More than a sports book, he said it revealed the intriguing culture and machinations behind the running of the club. Meanwhile, my brother, who usually reads fiction, waxed lyrical about Elon Musk’s book. I would never have even glanced at these books in a shop, yet those whose habits depart from my own introduced different genres to me. Sometimes, it is illuminating to talk books with our literary opposites as well as our bookish kindred spirits.
But, while I would be wise to sample a wider variety of books, learning about Richmond and Elon Musk, my heart really lies with those whose hearts soar at the same literary moments, with whom I can swap purchases and relive the joy and heartache of the words of our favourite writers.
Ernest Hemmingway might have said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book”, but it’s even better if you can combine the two.
For any potential bookish kindred spirits, here is my list of the best books to talk (on and on) about:
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
- Atonement by Ian McEwan
- The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith
- Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden