I think I've figured out a surefire way to meet new people. I mean, besides just walking up to a stranger and saying hello; it's a perfect segue to conversation. My secret is reading.
Let me digress for a minute: lately, on the internet and in talks with friends, I've been discussing thoughtful pieces on cultivating lasting friendships, meeting new people (friend- or dating-wise) without using the somewhat soulless staging of the internet, and making friends after you're done with the naturally social setting of school. As someone who was the perpetual New Girl growing up, I've been through all sorts of trials and tribulations in making friends - but practice makes perfect, right? So, I've dashed away any shyness when it comes to meeting new people. But there's something about making friends with strangers you know you already share at least one mutual interest - without even speaking to them yet.
All of this led up to today's morning commute. I was making my usual transfer from one train to another, and made my way to the door, where a fashionably dressed girl with bright red lipstick stood aside for me to get off. As I passed her with all the other bustling passengers, I noticed she was reading Christopher Pike's The Lost Mind. I paused for a millisecond before I had to continue on, lest I hold up the train and the other gruff commuters - but if I had the time to stop, I would have inquired as to why she was reading the book, and if it was because she had liked Pike books so much as an adolescent like me, or maybe after reading the trite Twilight series she was in need of trying out more substantial young-adult fare?
The point is: I would have said something and that may have led to a conversation, and maybe she wears red lipstick like me because she digs vintage 40s pinups and also Gwen Stefani, or maybe we go to the same bars sometimes and never ran into each other. Or, she could just smile and nod at me, totally nonplussed by my surprise that a 20-something was reading Pike on the subway.
And yes, I'm a total book nerd, and we're not all book nerds, but it's that one segue you need to spark a conversation between yourself and a stranger. It's happened to me several times while living in New York, and it's always: books.
With other areas of interests, it's not as easy to gather the pertinent information. Nobody talks during movies, and unless you're at a special screening of a classic you love or you see someone wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a line from your favourite movie of all time - you don't have an easy way to say "Hey." It's slightly easier with music - you could meet someone at a concert, though everyone's usually there with other people and, you know, it's loud. But there could be a quiet moment near the bar or in line on the way in. Forget that scene from 500 Days of Summer where Summer hears Tom listening to The Smiths on the elevator and starts talking to him: 1) music being blasted so loud in someone's ears that those nearby can hear it is super obnoxious and 2) there's no easy way to see what people are listening to without being the creep staring really hard at their iPod display.
A lot of people might think reading is an especially private endeavor - unless you're being read to, you don't read the same thing with anyone else at the same time, right? But public reading is a different story. You can gather what others are reading displayed on the covers - whether in a Starbucks, at Barnes and Noble, at the library (though you have to remain quiet!), or, as most often in my case: on the subway.
Three years ago, I was reading Tom Robbins' Still Life With Woodpecker on the F train heading to meet someone for dinner. I was flipping the pages, reading contentedly, when the young man sitting next to me said, "Tom Robbins?" I looked up and saw a very nice face (I would even say model-nice) as he continued - "I can tell because of the illustrations between sections," pointing at the open book. "Yeah, it's my first Tom Robbins - I really like it." He smiled and said, "I love his stuff, you should definitely check out more." Then it was my stop, and maybe if I wasn't already intensely into the man I'd been dating for a month at the time - the man who told me to read Still Life - then maybe I'd've passed along my e-mail or stayed an extra stop to continue talking.
Another time, I peered over at the girl next to me as she opened a new book, and I read along with her the first few sentences of The Time Traveler's Wife - and those few sentences were enough for me to go out and get the book the next time I went to the bookstore. I wish I could thank that girl now!
Just last week there was a girl sitting across from me reading the totally awesome and yes, very fantasy, novel A Game of Thrones. When I was getting off the train, I got her attention and said "I love that series!" and gave her a thumbs up and a wave (nerd-style) and she smiled back enthusiastically. I've done this many a time - for those books where I think I'm the only person reading it. I think I've mostly gotten these types of exclamations in return when I read comic books - I've just started reading Runaways, so we'll see what the next few days bring.
When my book club was reading War and Peace earlier this year, I'm 99.9% sure fellow member Jaime got a shout-out on Missed Connections because of it. The ad described a tall, blonde woman who had been reading the giant novel War and Peace and that he would've said hi, but he didn't want to distract her. I sent it to Jaime and asked her if she'd been on the specific train at that time the night before, and she confirmed it.
I know it's easy to read on the subway every day, and that it's harder without a metro nearby to just go out in public and read amongst others - but I think it's definitely a way to instantly know one very small thing about someone else. And with that, making an attempt at conversation is far easier than without. Though I haven't exactly made any best friends out of my fellow subway readers, that's mostly because I don't really have time to cultivate new friendships - what with having a husband, six bestest friends, and many other friends and activities. But when ever Jesse and I leave New York and move to a new place, you bet I'll be reading in public, hoping for a stranger to pop up reading 2666 or maybe a Didion collection.
Have you ever stopped someone because of what they were reading? Have you ever been been stopped? Tell me your stories!