Water Cooler Conversations: TV. Not books. Not movies

At a few social events recently, I’ve been struck by how rarely movies or books figure into our social conversations. I was chatting with a couple of people about Woody Allen’s new movie, Blue Jasmine (I liked it though it definitely has some problems. I think it’s his best movie since Vicky Christina Barcelona and the story is rather complex for a Woody Allen film), but discussing a movie in such a setting was unusual. It was just three of us in a corner, chatting about the movie, how we felt about it, what was new or unusual about it. This was in a room full of maybe 25 people. A few people indicated that they’d seen it but had little to offer to the discussion beyond “yes,” or “no.”

Pick up a book once in a while…

But then someone brought up Breaking Bad and Justified and the conversation just took off, several people then joined in, all had something to say. And people were passionate: arguing, getting sharp and even shrill. Even if people hadn’t seen Breaking Bad, they all had read and heard enough about it that they could at least understand what the conversation was about and could even contribute a bit. Mad Men, Girls, The Walking Dead, Orange is the New Black, Dexter: all of these shows were discussed with varying degrees of enthusiasm and criticism.

Afterwards, I thought about how rare it is that books figure into these conversations. Why is that? Are there just too many books so it’s rare to find people who read the same books as you do? If I were at a party where most people had read something very popular (like Twilight or 50 Shades), would a conversation develop around these books? Or do they lack the complexity necessary to make an interesting conversation? (Or perhaps people would be embarrassed to admit that they’d read them?) It seems to me that books are better suited for a conversation between two people or in a forced setting (like a book club).

It’s depressing, actually, because since I read all the time, I rarely have the chance to talk about a specific work I am reading or have recently read. I will occasionally have the chance to talk with someone about a writer whose work I admire, but it rarely gets very in-depth. And I’d say that my social circle reads more than the average person does (since I work in the book world but also since so many of my friends are writers, artists or those who work in the arts). The rare exception is when I lend a book to someone I know and we discuss it when they give it back (and this frequently centers around graphic novels, for some reason, since typically people won’t take 2 months to read a graphic novel).

Movies, too, operate in this way like books do: if someone is interested in indie or foreign movies, there are so many that it’s not likely we will run into someone who has recently seen a movie we have. And if one is into huge blockbusters that many people see, there is little in it to discuss since these movies are so rarely complex.

So that leaves TV. I don’t mind this wave of TV that has been sweeping through North America the last 10 years or so. Certain TV shows have become the new water cooler topics since it’s “good” popular culture. Still, being a book lover and promoter, I wish that element were present, too…