14 Places To Talk To A Stranger About Books

In places where strangers are temporarily clustered together in silence, a shared love of books can be a great reason to say hello.

Unlike the many ways to talk about books online, the human touch of a brief face-to-face chat might just be the buddy bench of literature lovers everywhere. Though it may come as a surprise to have someone speak up and invite a conversation — and some may not be interested — it definitely doesn’t hurt to ask. Without being creepy, a friendly question about how they like their book might make their day — and yours.

1. Bus Stop

You never know where people are going, or which bus they’re waiting for. If you spot someone with their nose in, say, any of Elena Ferrante’s brilliant books, how will you contain yourself? And why should you? Sharing your love for a book might be just the encouragement someone needs to dive deeper into the hundreds of life-changing pages that await them.

2. Bus

I devoured Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina over many a ride back and forth on the MTA’s M4 route through Manhattan. For the regular commuter who’s always prepared with reading material, a “How are you enjoying Tolstoy?” might come as a welcome change.

3. Elevator

Whether you’re riding a single level or zipping to the top of the Burj Khalifa, no elevator ride lasts longer than a few minutes. But if your fellow rider has Geek Love by Katherine Dunn tucked under his arm, what good will silence do either of you? You are two circus-freak lovers being towed skyward in an electric box. It’s OK to say that Dunn’s book is one in a million. Ask what he thinks of it so far.

4. Check-Out Line at the Library

The where? That’s right — the land of free books. If a stranger with a whole stack of books is holding one you loved, tell ‘em so. And maybe they’ll offer a recommendation that sends you back to the shelves to gather more.

5. Bookstore

Only in a real, live bookstore might you see someone indecisively staring down a book you’ve read and enjoyed. Perhaps you ask, “Have you read her other books?” Your chat might be just the thing to help them choose — or to introduce you to a new author.

6. Bar

There are writers who love bars, and some even love to write there, so it’s not surprising that bars would be great places to read too. My hunch is that people who read in bars are people who want to talk to someone anyway. Ask them what they think of their book. And be ready to listen, because a book carried into a bar might just be a sign of true devotion.

7. DMV

Few things could make the Department of Motor Vehicles a tolerable place to be. Books — and people who love them — are near the top of the list. Spot one, or be one.

8. Car Wash

The car wash is a pretty entertaining place. But, for some, the novelty wears off, or maybe the deluxe detail treatment is taking extra long, or maybe their book is just so good that they end up bringing it everywhere they go. Maybe it’s Kerouac’s On the Road, or the evenly parted pages of Nabokov’s Lolita, a sure sign they’re smack in the middle of the road-trip chapters. Ask.

9. Dentist’s/Doctor’s Waiting Room

No matter how shy someone may be, it’s a safe bet they’d rather be talking about books than preparing to have their plaque scraped. Whether they’re nervously taking in a great book or glancing at the one you’ve got, a book-focused greeting is likely to be a welcome distraction.

10. Playground

If you’re not riding down the slide with your kid, you might be sitting on a bench next to someone reading something awesome. And if you’re a parent, you know how refreshing it can be to talk to another adult human or anyone with teeth or the ability to speak in complete sentences. Maybe they’re reading Tom Kealey’s new collection, Thieves I’ve Known — brilliant stories that can be read in the span of a toddler’s nap time — and that’s how you find out.

11. Laundromat

A roll of quarters is all you need. Interesting people come to the laundromat, and they often bring a book to entertain themselves through a second rinse cycle. Bring yours, but don’t hesitate to look up and ask about theirs.

12. Airport Security Line

Just in time for the holidays and the longest, most dehumanizing wait times ever. For your own sanity, bring a book. And remember that just about everyone around you would prefer not to be in that line. If someone’s moving slowly because they’re engrossed in Tenth of December by George Saunders, just remember that the world is an absurd place, and the best you can do is err in the direction of kindness.

13. Airport Departure Gate

Sure to be a shorter book club than the one you could have on the flight itself (where your captive-audience neighbor may or may not want to spend more time reading than chatting). Maybe they’ve scored an advance copy of Gina Frangello’s A Life in Men — and your curious question about the tiny airplane on the cover will permit them to unspool the globe-trotting plot of this gorgeous book of friendship and loss.

14. Subway

Tons of people read on the subway, and lots of people are silent, lonely riders. Maybe you strike up a short conversation with a fellow subway rider reading Hilton Als’ White Girls. When the rider exits the train, maybe he says, “Thanks for just reaching out and talking to me. No one ever talks to anyone on the train.” There’s also the chance that once you start talking about books, you might just miss your stop.

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