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On Public Reading

2010 June 30
by Jill

I had a little time to kill between yoga class and meeting friends for trivia last night, so I decided to read in the park. It was a lovely summer evening, and I had a bench all to myself in the Common. I was pretty engrossed in my book, enjoying the breeze and the quiet peace of reading time, just for me, when a man in a rumpled suit appeared out of nowhere.  “What are you reading?” he asked, sitting on the bench beside me as though we were old friends. Confused, I held my paperback up and mumbled, “Hemingway” in as uninviting but not rude tone as I could muster. For the next ten minutes, this man proceeded to ask me questions about my hobbies, my profession (“Are you an artist? I just get this artistic feeling from you.”), my background “”You’re definitely not from the East Coast–West Coast right? Like California?” I am from Rhode Island.), and my summer plans.

The real kicker came when he said I reminded him of Lady Gaga when he first spotted me  (“You know, the whole Diet Coke cans in your hair, cigarettes in your glasses kind of thing”) and when I laughed, he shook his head and said, “Yeah, no, now that I’m talking to you I can see that it’s more of an Angelina Jolie vibe.” WHAT? I am about as far from Lady Gaga or Angelia Jolie as they come–I was dressed in a white skirt, pink t-shirt, and multi-colored sandals, hardly Lara Croft attire. Also, I have nary a tattoo, alternative piercing, or small orphan.

Though I was tempted at several points to snap “I was enjoying reading my book in peace and quiet before you started talking to me, and would like to get back to that,” in response to his many questions about my book and why I was reading it in the park, I kind of enjoyed the quirky spontaneity of a conversation with a stranger in a public place who was largely non-threatening and just seemed genuinely interested in talking to me. Anyway, the interaction got me thinking about how reading in public can spark some interesting discussions and situations. Are you more likely to approach someone if they’re reading a book you love, are interested in, or that you hated? Have you ever been approached by a stranger because of a book you were reading? Did they compare you to Lady Gaga? Just curious.

8 Responses Post a comment
  1. Dawn permalink
    June 30, 2010

    or small orphan – I love it! A-mazing.

    Go, you, for not snapping and instead reflecting on the quirky conversation.

    Also, I ALWAYS notice what people are reading in public… and may or may not walk or angle myself in strange ways in order to get a glimpse of a cover hidden from my view. :) Not likely to start any conversations, though…

  2. June 30, 2010

    I’m asked about what I’m reading from time to time–mostly on the subway. I often want to ask people how they like something I’ve either read or am interested in reading. I have to admit though, that I rarely, rarely do because I’m afraid it will seem like a come on, especially to women, but not always.

    If it’s something I genuinely am interested in hearing about, I’ll try to keep my distance and be brief–and then let them take the lead. If they want to talk about, they’ll usually let you know. If they don’t, I can let it die without seeming creepy.

    Wish it wasn’t this fraught, but such are the manners of our day I suppose.

  3. June 30, 2010

    This was not one of your concluding questions but I did want to say that while your appearance OR your style reminds me of Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie, I do think that both of them have particular kinds of strong, interesting, creative energy that you also have. So, weird park guy, you might be onto something.

    Also, I’ve noticed people who read on Kindles get approached in public space CONSTANTLY about their Kindle.

    Lastly, I think women who are reading are probably approached way more frequently than men who are reading but you would probably expect me to say something cranky like that.

  4. June 30, 2010

    *your appearance or style does NOT remind me LG and AJ. sorry. important words!

  5. July 1, 2010

    Umm, I have this really bad problem of NEEDING to know what the other people around me are reading. I love books so much that I want to know what else is being read. I like to think that I’m sneaky about it, but if I can’t see the cover I will look over shoulders to see the running head in hopes that it lists the title or at least author.

    I’ve been approached many times about what I’m reading — so far none of them have been detrimental. I don’t know if it’s because books are one of my favorite topics, but if someone wants to talk about the book I’m reading, I don’t go “boston-bitchy” the way I do when strangers approach me for other things (except directions. I’m always nice and willing to give directions).

    More than when they just want to talk about a book I’m reading that they’ve already read, I get really happy when someone asks me my opinion on the novel because they’re thinking about reading it. To think that I might influence a stranger to read a book I love (or not read one I hate) makes me feel useful and valuable.

  6. July 1, 2010

    That’s really interesting! My first reaction would be disturbed… I am usually disturbed when strange men approach me. Of course, I don’t know if he’s strange or not but the fact that he brought up Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie in one convo definitely strikes me as someone strange! 😉

  7. Joe permalink
    July 2, 2010

    We need a way to make Kindles and iPads display what we’re reading. It’s important to show off our taste.

  8. Melissa permalink
    July 2, 2010

    As your protective, knows way too much about creepy people who approach strangers in parks, older sister, I have to say….didn’t we teach you not to talk to strangers!!!?? Sorry to be cynical, but I think its part of my charm….

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