Monday, March 17, 2008

"Your Friends Weren't Active This Week; Find More Friends"

When I signed up for a Shelfari account, I thought I was walking into a virtual coffee shop filled with people who would share their thoughts on the books that I'm reading, that I have read or that I plan to read.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong. This is the message I found from Shelfari in my inbox today: "Your friends weren't active this week; find more friends." That reminds me of an infamous conversation I had with my friend-now-husband more than 18 years ago when I asked him why he didn't hang with me and my fun friends back in college. He shrugged his shoulders and grunted, "I had enough friends." While that's about as pompous an answer as he could give, I understand what he meant: Friends can be a lot of work. A bunch of illiterate friends, on the other hand, could be exhausting. (My college friends and I at least knew how to read, for Pete's sake.)

Unless I'm mistaken, the general idea is that when you sign on with Shelfari, you will have the golden opportunity to communicate online with people who enjoy -- or at least have read -- the same books that you have read. It's to be like your own little book club, but without the preparatory housework and cooking.

But MY Shelfari friends have taken friendship work to a whole new level. Maybe they're the stoners who would prefer to hang out in the smoking area rather than study for today's exam. Or maybe they're cute and bubbly and preparing for this weekend's cheerleading competition so no one could possibly expect them to read a book. (The top photo comes from Shelfari. These may very well be my actual deadbeat friends, busily not reading, but compiling a Burn Book like the nasty teens in Mean Girls. Maybe they're burning ME and scrawling Mean Girl notes about the shoes I almost bought at Target this weekend, or how I really shouldn't have eaten those chicken fingers at Dairy Queen Saturday night, or what my kids wore to church yesterday.)

I want to believe that my Shelfari friends aren't so shallow, so lazy, so hopeless. To understand my Shelfari friends a little better, I offer you this example: One of the titles on my Shelfari bookshelf is Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck, which I have read several times and tend to check out from the library every few weeks. I should probably just buy the darn thing. Anyway, here's what one of my Shelfari friends had to say about this book: "No one wants to get old...but guess what? You're going to get old. Haven't read this one but I thought the title was funny so it's now on my shelf." What? A Shelfari friend who doesn't read the book? That's no literate friend. That's a voyeur. A user. A moocher. You don't just pick up a book and put it on your shelf for looks. That's what coffee tables are for. She might as well have written, "Omigosh! Like, what's wrong with her neck? I am so, like, never gonna' feel bad about MY neck. My neck is, like, so awesome."

Here's another title on my Shelfari bookshelf: Jonathan Franzen's How To Be Alone: Essays. Great title, boring cover, OK read. Here is the enlightening feedback from my Shelfari friends: "six new readers, no reviews, no comments." What kind of friends ARE these? They seem to have read the book but didn't even bother to say, "Hey, I read it. You should, too," or "I read it. You shouldn't."

So here I am, caught in the middle and being asked by the Shelfari guidance counselor to ditch my friends because of their inactivity. I know she's right, but should I really ditch them and risk my popularity with people I've never met, or should I play the diplomat and send them supportive e-mails, encourage them to plug along and try a little harder?

Maybe I should just avoid eye contact when I see them in the hallway, maybe sit at a different table in the lunchroom. Or just change schools. It couldn't possibly be that great of a loss. I have enough friends.