The Not-So-Antisocial Person’s Guide to Conversing With the Dead

Good answers require good questions.

But, just as many people aren’t prepared to ask good questions, not everyone is prepared to provide good answers.

If I wanted to learn how to sail a boat, would I rather consult Magellan or the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island?

Knowing this, I usually skip the office cafeteria during lunch hour, head out to the dim confines of the parking garage, get in my car, and converse with the dead.

I choose this over the gossipy lunch table where people expect nothing but tacit agreement regarding politics, or engage in too-long discussions about how they couldn’t quite decide which type of grout best suited their bathroom remodel.

I resist the vendors constantly beating down my voicemail door, wanting to buy me a meal so they can “build a relationship.” I’m sorry. I don’t want to “build a relationship” with someone that just wants to sell me something.

Look, I hope I’m not coming off as snooty. I’m not against being social and professional at the office; nothing wrong with that at all. I grab the occasional lunch with my coworkers and often have interesting conversations. I try to be congenial with anyone I encounter.

But the logical outcome is some people consider me antisocial. I laugh it off, but in the back of mind, I’m thinking: My time is precious and if I have a choice in how I’m going to spend it, I’m going to buy a chicken and not an egg.

Outside of you fine people and a few close friends, there is a small category of people I want to know deeply. People with enough skill, wisdom, and experience who can teach me something worthwhile! The clincher is that most of them are worm food.

So how do we chat?

“Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.”

Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book

Yup, I create marginalia.

Melville, Dickens, and a whole lot more have all talked with other celebrated authors this way.

There’s something exciting about reading an idea or a phrase in a book that speaks to me, calls me out and forces me to respond. It can be a joyful agreement or a passionate argument. But it’s always a conversation in which I can truly learn both about the other person and myself.

How often can you say that about water cooler chats?

Marking up a book also has the side-benefit of recording that conversation. Five years from now, I can flip through the pages and either laugh at how much I’ve grown or cry over just how far I’ve fallen.

So, I have to ask, am I living up to my label? Am I really being antisocial when I sneak out at noon?

I don’t think so.

In fact, I’d be willing to bet I’m probably gaining so much more from my socialization than my colleagues are with theirs.

How about you? Do you actively talk with the authors you’re reading, living or dead?


7 thoughts on “The Not-So-Antisocial Person’s Guide to Conversing With the Dead

  1. I have a copy of Oswald Spengler’s “The Decline of the West” from my college days that’s filled with my annotations. I adopted quite a casual tone with him. even calling him “Ozzy”.

    1. I’d never heard of Spengler or that book, but I looked it up and am intrigued! I love that you called him Ozzy. I think I’ll steal that habit from you…

    2. I’ve always wanted to read Spengler’s Decline of the West! I’ve heard that it was one of Bill Burroughs’ favorite works.

  2. I’m reading a novel right now and finding myself saying to the author, directly, “Ah, I see what you’re up to!”

    Pretty satisfying. 😉

    1. Haha! I love when that happens, except when it’s over… I miss my pre-writerly ignorance sometimes.

  3. I TOTALLY get what what you’re talking about Phillip. My coworkers in every office I’ve ever worked in think I’m anything from “anti-social” to just plain old weird. I just can’t stand chitchat. And I also don’t care for talking to someone when I can tell that I’m only ever going to be able to communicate with their “outer shell” and never get to the real person inside.

    1. Hah, yes! We’re totally on the same wavelength here.

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