As someone who is always carrying around a book, I find myself reading in public on a frequent basis. Some of the places I have been caught reading include, but are not limited to: restaurants, public transportation, doctor’s offices, grocery stores, sporting arenas, movie theaters, and work. But while reading in public can be a great thing, there is a problem with this habit on a practical level.
Though there certainly are exceptions, public places are often crowded and noisy, making it difficult to concentrate on your book. It might be louder-than-average conversations on an airplane, a television in a doctor’s office waiting room, or screaming children at a fast food restaurant. But most often, at least in my experience, the trouble lies with complete strangers who feel like they need to speak to you because they have seen you reading.
Sometimes this is a well-meaning individual who sees you sitting alone with your book in a family-style restaurant; like the super sweet lady at Bob Evans who asked if I’d like to join her and her husband for breakfast because they thought I looked lonely. (If you’re reading this, thank you! Even though I didn’t accept the invitation to sit with you, you really made my day!)
Other book lovers can also interrupt you while you’re reading, but fortunately these conversations tend to be pretty short. A quick question about what you’re reading, and possibly a follow-up about whether or not it’s good, and the interaction usually ends. You might even get a recommendation for another book if the person has similar tastes. I usually enjoy these quick conversations, so I don’t really mind putting down my book for a few minutes.
And then there are the people who seem to have forgotten that books are even a thing… These are the people who seem to gravitate toward me. Usually the interaction begins with someone saying, “Oh, that book must be really good.” It’s amazing how often a brief, affirmative reply results in a lengthy conversation with a complete stranger about their reading habits (or lack thereof). For some inexplicable reason, this conversation always seems to take place during intermissions at concerts.
Occasionally a person will make a more unique comment, which tends to throw me off my game. Whether it’s due to inattention, social anxiety, or leftover childhood “Stranger-Danger” trauma, I never seem to have a response to these comments or questions in the moment. My go-to response is usually to blink owlishly at the person who interrupted me, mumble something completely unintelligible, and return to my reading…only to find myself feeling guilty for being rude right about the time I try to go to sleep that night.
But since I actually have the time to think, here are some responses I wish I could have given to the more unique comments and questions that have been directed my way…
“I didn’t think young people still read anymore.”
First of all, thank you. I’m one hundred percent okay with you considering my mid-thirties self to be one of the “young people.”
Second of all, what does age have to do with a love of reading?
“Do people still read paper books?”
Well, you’re seeing me read one… I think you’ve got your answer.
It’s funny how many people assume that books are going away because of technology. While I do have an iPad that I frequently carry with me, I mostly use it to read Avengers fanfiction and browse Pinterest. I will confess to having amassed a frankly ridiculous number of eBooks on my Kindle app, but that’s mostly for convenience while traveling. (Carrying a large number of books is not always an option when I travel, and I read too quickly to bring only a few.) Generally speaking, I prefer to read actual, tangible books.
I think a lot of other people have given similar reasons for this preference, but I like having the experience of being able to physically open a book. I love the smell of books, and the texture of the paper…and I don’t have to worry about carrying around my nine-foot charger in order to read.
“Eww… Why are you reading?”
Why are you talking to me?
I understand that there are people who do not enjoy reading, and who have a difficult time relating to those of us who would choose a book over other activities. But I also think some people don’t understand that reading is not merely a hobby. Reading also provides us with the opportunity to escape from reality for a little while; something I think most of us would admit to needing on occasion…
Even if that means we risk being interrupted while reading in public.
Do you have a tendency to read in public? If so, what kinds of interruptions have you faced? Feel free to leave a comment here, or on Twitter. You can find me on Twitter @UnapologBkworm.