The Sunday Salon: Reading in Public

If you like books and you exist in any form on the Internet, then I’m sure you’ve heard of CoverSpy. If you haven’t, CoverSpy is a tumblr by Slice Magazine that goes out into the world and records what people are actually reading on subways, streets, parks, etcetera, etcetera. It’s a lot of fun to see what people are reading in public, especially when they’re reading something that you yourself like. But when CoverSpy reports a Kindle without a title or author, you can feel kind of… rebuffed by your fellow reader, even if you can kind of get where they’re coming from.

I’ve never been shy about toting a book I’m reading out and about, unless the cover features nudity or anything you would only find in an R-rated movie. My parents were always much more shy about this. As a kid, I was always rereading the same books I could forage out of my parents’ collections over and over again. (Yes, the Literary Omnivore did not discover the wonder of public libraries until shamefully well into high school.) One of these books was a copy of Dave Barry’s Dave Barry is Not Taking This Sitting Down, which features a picture of the author seated on a toilet in the middle of the street. Now, Barry is clearly wearing boxers (the traditional cartoonish heart boxers) and not actually using the toilet, but my mother would still tell me to leave the book at home, often while I was elbow-deep in my latest reread at the Atlanta Bread Company. (We used to eat there a lot, come to think of it.) It didn’t stick, and I bring my reading with me everywhere I go.

But I never really considered using digital books to disguise what I’m reading until last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live (which I’ve not actually finished), which featured an Amazon Mother’s Day ad spoof focused around Fifty Shades of Grey. (You know you’ve made it when…) The ad ends by boasting about how, on a Kindle, no one knows what you’re reading. It had just never occurred to me; technically, no one can see what I’m reading on my phone or when I’m listening to my iPod, but, for the most part, I happily read in public. And while I do see the value of being able to disguise your reading while out and about, I think it can also mean a reader misses out on those chance encounters that books can provide.

In the student center last semester, I ran across a girl wielding Banewreaker from the public library. I stopped to talk to her and tell her just how amazing The Sundering is, and she got even more excited for the duet. If it had been on her Kindle, we would have never had had that encounter. Reading can often be a solitary art, so reading in public is a way you can signal to other readers. Of course, I don’t want to ignore people who don’t want to be bothered when they read and use it as a shield in public, but I know I’ve never felt discouraged from walking up to someone and telling them how much I just love Michael Chabon. And that really can’t happen on a Kindle.

I moved out of college this week, I took the GRE on Friday, and I watched my seniors graduate yesterday morning. It’s been a bit rough emotionally for me, is what I’m saying. I have managed to get through Benighted and The Valley of Fear this week, as well as starting on The Ecstasy of Influence.

 Kristen at Fantasy Book Cafe as the Newsflesh trilogy until Wednesday. She’s also giving away two copies of Bitterblue until Tuesday. Lu at Regular Rumination is giving away a copy of Bitterblue and a totebag until Tuesday, too. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) Small Beer Press offers several of their books as free downloads, including Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

12 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Reading in Public

  1. I’ve never felt the need to hide what I’m reading in public either. I have mused to myself sometimes what people might think of my particular book choices, especially when I’m reading something really pretentious or really low-brow, but that thinking is just for my own personal amusement. It doesn’t affect what I choose to read.

    One time, though, I was reading a memoir by a stripper when I went home for Thanksgiving, and I made sure to remove the dust jacket from the book so my mom wouldn’t see the racy pictures on the outside. Just avoiding awkward and not particularly useful conversation there.

  2. While of course I’ve also wondered what people think of my reading, I’ve also enjoyed spying on others’ choices! Some of the best conversations with random strangers on trains have occurred because we got chatting about a book. Now I have a Kindle, I realise I’m cutting others out of spying on me, and when I see people reading on an e-reader it really nags me that I can’t figure out what they’re reading. A nosy “So, what are you reading there?” is just so much more inappropriate than an “Oh, I loved that book! Are you enjoying it?” for a conversation starter ;).
    Although I must say I got into a really great conversation with a guy on the train the other day because he asked me whether I was happy with my Kindle.
    As for feeling self-conscious in an awkward way about my reading in public, I think this only happened to me once – I was reading “Wetlands” by Charlotte Roche, which is pretty saucy. It stirred up such a hype in Germany that everyone and their sister knew what it was about, and it came with a bright neon pink cover just to call some more attention to itself. In the end though, the rebel in me got the upper hand, I thought “to hell with social conventions” and proudly buried my nose in it (it turned out I hated the book though).

  3. The only time I “hid” what I was reading happened about five years ago or so. The book was: Bitch In Praise of Strong Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel. I didn’t really care while I was out in public-public…but one day I accidentally brought *that* book to work (I’m a middle school teacher). I couldn’t go the whole day without reading a book so I covered it up with the literature textbook. Realistically I figured if a kid did see the title and told their folks that I was reading a book “with a bad word on it” I could explain its purpose. But for obvs reasons, that was a convo that I just didn’t want to have to begin with.

    Now when *I* was in middle school I went through a phase of Harlequin Historical Romances with those gaudy half naked men and boobage in your face heroines on the cover. I felt no shame. Thankfully my mom generally felt that I would self-censor myself. I don’t read those books now; the phase last through eighth grade. I can’t imagine I would feel embarrassed enough to hide what I was reading but I’d still definitely not bring a Harlequin book to work w/ me for some lunchtime reading. 😉

  4. I’ve had people see the book I’m reading and ask me about it, usually if it’s something they don’t recognize.

    Having lost my Nook, which I got so I could read and support the ebook writers I’ve met online, I’ll likely not go back to digital. Since I work in a bookstore, it’s much more cost-effective to but physical books rather than digital versions.

    Since I’m busy with writing at home, I have to do between 60 and 75% of my reading in public. I’m not shy about it or what I read.

  5. A couple summers ago I was walking to the metro on a very crowded pathway and was on a collision course with a bookreader (nose in book, head facing the ground, cannot see or hear too well). He was reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, which I had read and thought was great. Before we collided I said ‘That’s a great book!’. He looked up, smiled and said, ‘Yeah, it is!’ then promptly returned to his reading-walk. It was an evasive tactic, a book praise and moment of understanding, all wrapped in one.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see that much public reading.

  6. You know, I used to get embarrassed by what I was reading. I think because I was made fun of a lot for reading Harry Potter in middle school. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve definitely gotten over that. I also love when conversations happen because of a book I’m reading. I am not opposed to ereaders in any way, I have one and use one (mostly for galleys), but there’s nothing quite like reading a physical book.

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