In Defense of the Bookish Extrovert
A Short Introduction
My love of print isn’t connected to how much time I need to be alone. I am a Bookish Extrovert, someone who loves to read but may not fit the common idea of a bookish person. This misconception creates sweeping generalizations about who is allowed to enjoy literature or who is expected to navigate learning spaces. When someone doesn’t live up to the expectation of what a reader or writer looks like, they can be ignored or eliminated from the narrative.
For better clarification, an extrovert is someone who becomes energized or mentally full by interacting with other people. Talking or spending time with someone is what gives me the mental energy to do the mundane things in my life. An introvert is someone who becomes energized by spending time alone, or maybe with someone else in a quiet space. They regularly participate in solitary activities to gather the energy needed to spend time with people like me. Of course, this is the simplified version of these definitions, but the main point is, shyness, outgoingness, or love of literature and arts are not mutually exclusive to one side or the other.
(Now, before you come after me and my simplified definitions, know that I am only talking about one small portion of Myers-Briggs. I know there is SO MUCH INFORMATION to talk about but not in this post.)
We tend to see the same bookish stereotypes online or in movies:
- Bookish people like to read more than they want to socialize.
- Writing is the preferred method of communication.
- Nerds can exercise their minds but they wouldn’t be able to win a fist fight.
- Being bookish means you’re automatically an introvert.
These above ideas of what makes someone love reading and learning don’t apply to me. This single narrative of a “bookish person” erases me and others like me from the dialogue. Book-loving and introverts aren't the main reading requirements and the point of this post is to give you another perspective on what a bookish person looks and sounds like. This isn’t to say NO ONE fits this narrative, it just doesn’t fit me. I buy books, I drink hot liquids, and I love to post author quotes. But there is much more to my bookishness than quiet spaces and journaling accessories. As black women are creating platforms for their voices to be included, I want to speak up to the joys and sorrows of being a bookish extrovert.
Reading doesn't energize me.
When I was a kid, I read A LOT. Anytime I wasn’t in class, or doing homework, or hanging out with friends, I was reading. As an extrovert, I got all of my energy from attending classes and being with people constantly. The best thing in life was being outside and being with friends. Reading was a joy that calmed my brain but it didn’t recharge my batteries. Everyone needs some alone time, and I used mine for books. I watched some tv but that makes my whole brain numb, which is still the case today. If I don’t have enough people-time, I can’t read a book. I can’t focus on the content and read the same sentence over and over. I tend to read books later in the day or when I’m ready to head to bed. Reading at night calms my mind and usually puts me right to sleep. It also helps that the house is quiet and all my other responsibilities will pick up the next day.
People are better than books.
If I had to choose friends over books, friends win every time. Nothing makes me feel more like myself than spending time with the people I care about. Frankly, nothing makes me feel more like myself than spending time with any good-natured human. I’m a party-throwing, plan-making, extremely-chatty-at-8-am kind of person. I don’t like to be without a buddy and get moody when I have been without adult interaction for too long (which is usually less than 10 hours). I use to think that I read in my downtime, but my adult habits prove that reading is a planned event just as much as any other activity. The pleasure I get from reading and learning new things is almost the biggest high I can get- but it’s not better than people.
Books are better WITH people.
We all want to talk about the most recent book we've read or the latest movie we've seen. As an extrovert, I NEED to have these dialogues with people, and as soon as possible. Book clubs and (to a lesser extent) online forums are usually the easiest way to spend time with people and talk about books. Sometimes I can talk about a book I've read because it has some connection to a non-book conversation. The downside to that is most of the time, people haven't read the obscure book I'm talking about.
Also, silent book clubs are not for me. The concept just don't register in my brain. Go and sit somewhere and NOT talk to the people around you? Nope. Not fun at all. This includes, and hear me out, reading in libraries. Now, before you freak out, I’m not saying that libraries aren’t amazing and wonderful and should be fully funded. I’m saying I don’t want to spend any time sitting somewhere with no music and no chatting while I “enjoy” my book. Writing a paper, great. Making copies or browsing microfiches, perfect. A place to get cozy while I finish my current read of the week, you’ll find me elsewhere.
Please interrupt me when I’m reading- but only if you really want to talk.
No one likes to be interrupted for petty things, especially if you’re focused on something you love to do. Of course I want to finish the page or chapter I’m on since I set time aside to read a book; BUT, if you want to talk about a deep philosophical theory, or you want to know what my book is about, interrupt away. I may ask you to wait a minute because I’m in the middle of a sentence, but I would love nothing more than to talk about whatever you want to talk about. What I don’t want is to be interrupted for you to give me instructions on something else to do or for you to talk AT me (which is when you want to talk about whatever is on your mind but you don’t want to have an actual conversation). Those kinds of moment can wait until I’m ready to stop reading. Sometimes, an interruption can give me more energy to read more than I expected which is always a win-win.
Writing about reading is more of a challenge than I thought.
My preferred method of communication is talking. If you know me personally, that last sentence just made you laugh out loud, because it’s the truest of truths. I prefer to talk on the phone than text and everything is better in person. When I decided to blog about my reading adventures, I didn’t expect it to be such a challenge. Readers are just naturally good at writing, or so I was lead to believe. It feels like everyone is able to blog about their bookishness except me- I always feel stuck.
The bookish community looks to be filled with people who are better at expressing themselves in writing. It looks like being a great writer just works better for introverts. That doesn't mean that being an extrovert makes you a bad writer, it just means I have to work through my own distractions. As with the above ideas, bookish and introverted are not the same, and the idea of all readers being tenacious writers reminds me to keep practicing my writing craft.
I am a proud bookish extrovert.
Don’t let the world box you in simply because they can’t figure you out. If any group of people is living in two worlds, it's the bookish extrovert. It's easy to read hundreds of books a year if you need the solitude in order to function. There is no competition between your bookish needs and your sanity. As a high energy extrovert, I struggle with this lifestyle. I can't wait to talk about what I'm reading and how much I love or hate it, but I have to be alone to read!
It’s also to say that I’m carving out my own space and maybe establishing a trend for others to do the same. I love to read, I love people, I love ideas and words and bookstores. I want bookish discussions on the train or while I'm reading on a bench. And I’m not convinced I’m that unique. This is a reminder that I am not a bad introvert but an extrovert who loves words. I’m bookish in my own wonderful ways.
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