It happened again this weekend. I was chatting with friends over lunch, when one of them casually mentioned she had just picked up a new book, Tenth of December, by George Saunders. Not three seconds had passed since the words left her lips, and I pounced.
"What do you think? Do you like it? I love George Saunders. Big fan. Especially his early work. Have you read Pastoralia? Highly recommend. And In Persuasion Nation literally had me rolling on the floor laughing. In fact, when I was a senior in college, he guest taught one of my creative writing classes. It was brilliant. Oh! And when he spoke at the New Yorker Festival a few weeks ago, did you go? Deborah Treisman from The New Yorker interviewed him. So during the panel he said—“
“Whoa,” My friend interjected, putting up her hand.
"What?" I asked.
"You….you need to just….chill."
I looked around the table and saw it on my friends’ faces: second-hand embarrassment. Directed at me. And I realized: I was sputtering, hyper, overeager, obnoxious. Arms flailing, eyes wide, talking a mile a minute, and the poor girl hadn’t even started the book yet. I knew what was happening. I was one-upping again. I was being a reading one-upper. My friend’s innocent acquisition of a new book had just turned into me on my soapbox, pitching the greatness of Saunders and professing my love for his work like my life depended on it, trying to prove once again to the world how much I love literature. I was scaring people.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. Just the other day a little girl told me she was reading Clifford at the Circus.
"Oh yea?" I said, smiling. “What about Clifford the Firehouse Dog?" She shook her head. "Clifford Goes to Hollywood?" Nothing. "Clifford’s Bedtime? Surely you’ve read Clifford's First Christmas? Clifford's Puppy Days? Really???” And there it was, that same look. That leave-me-alone-with-my-book look that shook me to the core.
I’m not proud. But I’m working on it. And I know I’m not alone. Maybe you exhibit some of these same symptoms? Maybe you lapse into reading one-upping behavio? Share your stories here (and I promise, I will not try to one-up you.)