In Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson writes several poems about her best friend, Maria. A poem called “what if …?” asks what if Woodson and Maria had never met?
What if Maria hadn’t walked out of her building
one day and said,
My name is Maria but my mom calls me Googoo.
What if I had laughed instead of saying,
You’re lucky. I wish I had a nickname, too.
You want to go to the park sometime?
Many friendships, even BFFs, begin that randomly. Mine happened my freshman year of college, when I was mailing a letter at the campus post office. Another student was there, and despite my introversion, we chatted because there were only the two of us there that day and to not chit-chat is rude in Texas. We discovered we were both mailing letters to the same apartment complex in Waco because we each had a boyfriend living there. I said if she ever wanted a ride, she could come along. Thus began a friendship.
Jenn and I are alike in some ways — we both love books — but she is more extroverted than I am. (Note: It’s not hard to be more extroverted than I am. Just because I know how to make small talk in a campus post office doesn’t mean I like it.)
A couple of years ago Jenn and I took our friendship to a new level. Each week we read one chapter at a time along with the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text and have a phone call to discuss the chapter and the podcast. Hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile take take a simple approach: “What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts?”
The format is perfect for my introverted tendencies: a set call with a set friend about a set topic. The podcast reads each chapter through a theme, so Jenn and I usually discuss the theme in our call. We also mark a sentence from the chapter that sparkled at us and do our own version of floralegium, reading our sentences next to each other to see if we gain any deeper insight. Lately we’ve been exploring the practice of marginalia, taking notes in the margins and sharing them.
We do a surprisingly good job of sticking to the chapter as a lens for anything else we talk about. That’s another benefit for me, as an introvert. I don’t feel like I have to talk about everything. But our weekly chats do allow us to talk about our lives in unexpected ways. If one of us says how much she identified with Hermione in the week’s chapter, the other friend can comment about that in the broader context of either Hermione’s development as a character or the knowledge we have of each other that comes from a twenty-nine year friendship.
There have been times when one of us needed the phone call more than we realized. Sometimes we don’t recognize we’re having a hard time until we discuss book 5, chapter 2 through the theme of frustration, and see ourselves in — shudder — Petunia Dursley. In that particular chapter, Jenn noticed something about Dudley’s reaction to the dementor attack that had never occurred to me, and I later used that insight to help me navigate a relationship with a difficult person.
Some weeks both of us are prepared, and some weeks only one of us is truly ready. We have grace for each other. In April, when I was helping my dad move, I didn’t read the chapter for a month, but I did listen to the podcast. Likewise, Jenn has had weeks when life pushed literature to the margin. Since we’ve both read the books multiple times, we’re never coming in cold.
Maybe two extroverts would feel stifled by a regular phone meeting. But for an introvert like me, it’s paradise. I think Luna Lovegood, the character with whom I most identify in the series, would agree. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, she says, “I enjoyed the meetings, too. It was like having friends.”
Browse more Introvert Paradise
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro