A while ago I read an article in the newspaper about “bronies,” grown men who are diehard fans, of My Little Pony, the animated television show.
The guys, I guess there are a few women too, get together online, in meetings and at conventions to watch and talk about the show….and brush the manes on little plastic horses, I guess?
I’ll admit that I was pretty judgmental when I read the article. My exact words were, “That’s just plain weird.” I may have thrown a “freak” and a “crazy” in there as well.
And while I still don’t understand the appeal of pastel ponies to adult men, the article also focused a little bit on how much satisfaction the bronies got out of their meet-ups. And that I understand.
This past weekend was Booktopia, the (now) annual reader/writer three-day retreat, hosted by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness of the Books on the Nightstand podcast. And, it bears repeating, the very retreat where author Matthew Dicks inspired me to start writing last year. (More on the response to that another day.)
Reading and a joy of books is certainly more social acceptable that grown men in t-shirts picturing ponies with names like Baby Halfnote, Daffidazey and Flitter Flutter, but we experience the same happiness from being in a group of people who love what we love and, well, just get it.
But trying to explain the extreme satisfaction of a weekend like the one I just experienced to non-readers (or non-bronies) is hard. Like Will Smith complained about his parents, they “just don’t understand.” (Did I date myself with that reference?)
So if (dear God, say it isn’t so) you aren’t a reader, I want you to think of something that you love. Not someone, but something. A food, a hobby, an activity. It doesn’t have to be something outrageous like My Little Pony. For example, maybe you really enjoy chocolate, or are addicted to the TV show Mad Men, or religiously follow the New York Yankees.
Now I want you to imagine yourself in the Mecca for this thing or interest. Say, a chocolate shop in Switzerland, the Madison Avenue set of Mad Men, or on the pitching mound at Yankee Stadium.
And standing before you are people who make everything happen. Not just the chocolatiers, stars of the show or outfielders, but the behind the scenes people too. The ones who buy the ingredients and sell the chocolate. The guy who created Mad Men, the people who dress the set, design the costumes. The coaches, managers and trainers.
Lastly, image you are there with seventy five other people who eat, watch or cheer just as reverently as you do. You debate the pros and cons of dark vs. milk chocolate. You discuss whether or not you think Peggy and Don will ever sleep with each other. You talk RBIs, at bats and home run ratios.
Can you imagine it? The pure giddiness of being completely immersed in something you are passionate about? The easy companionship? And slight lightheadness of being allowed to peek behind the curtain, and rub elbows with your idols, the people who create that thing you love so much?
If I were asked to imagine the scenario I just described, I would pick books. I love lots of things, but books have been my most consistent passion over the years. From the time I could read, they have been my constant companion.
And as for the place, I’d pick a great bookstore. My first job was at a bookstore and I still love the smell of the paper, the hush and anticipation in the air.
And I’d fill with store with authors and the people who support their work, the folks who can tell me what it means when a book is optioned for a movie, or who picks the book cover, or how long it took to write a book I devoured in just a few days.
Joining me would be other book-lovers, people who have read many of the same books I have and want to talk about the plot twists and characters. Who recommend other books that they read and loved.
Lucky for me, and seventy four other readers, Ann and Michael somehow knew that’s what we would imagine and made it happen.
I’ve had very few experiences like this one in my life, and never on such a large scale. Of course I’ve connected with other people over common interests. I spent lunches discussing whether or not Jesus Christ Superstar was Andrew Lloyd Weber’s best musical with a fellow grad student. I’ve debated if Pete Sampras or Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time with a colleague.
But I’ve never had the pleasure of being surrounded by seventy five Broadway geeks or tennis aficionados.
Briefly, and this just describes the schedule not the excitement, there are hour long small events featuring one author talking in detail about his/her work, and then a big evening event where all the authors speak and graciously allow their adoring fans to demand autographs and conversation.
I wonder how many times the authors had to smile thankfully in response to “I loved your book.”
I’m not suggesting that the authors are disingenuous in any way. They have said that they are genuinely pleased and touched to be surrounded by avid readers. And to have time to talk to them about books, instead of breezing into a city, talk at a few people, sign a few books, at then move to the next city, the next Barnes and Noble or Books A Million.
I hope they know how meaningful the connections made at Booktopia are to us readers.
And I hope Ann and Michael know it too.
They are responsible for creating a dream come true that sustains readers like me throughout the year. And that’s why we say, “I can’t wait until next year” before we’ve even made it home from this year’s event.