Friday Hoyden: reading in public

How many of you always carry a book to read?

Do you find that your commute time is actually the time you can have to yourself to get that reading done?

On the platform, reading



Is your ideal lunch-hour finding a park bench all of your own, or a spot in the sun, and devouring a few chapters?

Reading a book in Central Park

Reading in Erie Park

Reading in the Park


Statue of the Peanuts Character Marcie Reading, Rice Park, St. Paul, MN

When you went on holiday as a child, were your parents always telling you to get your nose out of that book?

Reading in the flowers

Royal Reading

Is the fact that you’ll have more free time for reading still the best part of going on holiday? (Judging by the many photos of stacks of books titled “Holiday Reading” on Flickr, we are far from alone!)

Holiday Read

Hardy Reader

And finally, the two big questions:

  1. Have you ever kept on reading while travelling, even though you were getting motion sickness, to the point of actually throwing up because you didn’t want to stop turning the pages?
  2. Have you ever actually flipped your wig when someone has interrupted your reading in public to have a conversation, on the assumption that you must only be reading because you were bored or lonely and would much rather be chatting to a stranger? Or have you just always gritted your teeth and borne it?

Image credits: all pictures found on Flickr – click on a photo to go the the photographer’s photostream

Categories: arts & entertainment, fun & hobbies, gender & feminism

Tags: , , ,

59 replies

  1. Oh yes to everything, though I don’t technically always take a book everywhere. Some places it’s just not proper to do so. But anywhere where I’m going to wait, it’s just fine.
    And hey, if I didn’t read on long car trips, or knit, it’d be beyond dull for ADD me.

  2. What else are you supposed to do on holidays?

  3. I can’t read at all in a car or bus, but I can on a train or smooth-riding plane, thank goodness. I take a book or audiobook nearly everywhere. Audiobooks are terrific at the playground, because I can still keep an eye on the Lad while reading. And there are fewer ergonomic issues. Hooray for my iPod Shuffle!
    As a kid, I would read in the car until I threw up. No longer.

  4. I still take delight in reading a book in public so genuinely funny that you laugh until people around you get nervous. One of those utter joys in life.

  5. whenever we went on family trips my parents had to frisk me to see if I was going to attempt to read in the car.
    I was also a rude little thing. whenever someone would try striking up a conversation with me by asking “what are you reading?” I’d lift up the book so they could read the title for themselves and keep on going.
    and fuckpoliteness? I know your joy. one of my greatest pleasures is to look up from whatever book amused me so, and take in the surronding reactions… bliss.

  6. The look on my mother’s face was definately worth it when presenting her with my collection of ebooks on a smart-phone after she enquired how I “would manage without a book to read whilst in England” (as if the UK had neither library services or bookshops!)
    The only downside is that most people don’t know you are reading in public when you use ebooks or audiobooks. So for added pizzaz, listen to an audio-book while knitting in public for a real mind-bending effect on others.

  7. Oh, I love this! It’s actually been ages since I’ve done any public reading, becuase I walk to uni (although in my teens I would often walk and read at the same time). But I did, of course, choose to do a PhD in English Literature, mostly because it was an excuse to read more books. 🙂
    I’ve never read in a car to the point of throwing up, because I don’t tend to get motion sickness very often– even when I have had a touch of motion sickness, it hasn’t been to the point of vomiting (at least, not since I was pre-literate). My favourite plane trip ever was the first leg of the journey to London in 2005– it was a couple of weeks after Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince came out, and, using an extreme amount of willpower, I managed to hold off reading it until the trip. I read the whole thing in the air between Sydney and Hong Kong (as an added bonus, for that leg of the journey, the cabin was only 1/3 full– which meant that each passenger pretty much had a whole row to themselves).
    A couple of years ago, I was at a fairly fancy restaurant, and I noticed that, at the table next to us, there was a girl, about nine or ten years old, with her nose in a book, in spite of her parents repeated attempts to make her put it away– and I honestly felt like I was looking at a younger version of myself. I’d always read at the table– at home, visiting friends, in restaurants, anywhere. Books were so much better than real life. 🙂

  8. I love reading on the bus to work every morning. Sometimes it’s uni readings, but a lot of the times it’s just what I’m reading for me, and it is delightful.

  9. I read absolutely everywhere and, despite having chronic motion sickness, cannot resist reading on all forms of transport.
    When I was young, if my mum wanted to punish me she would ban me from reading and she would also ration my books when on holiday, so that I wouldn’t read them all on the first day! Now that I am “grown-up” I don’t have to hold back and read as much as I can on my holidays.

  10. Yes to all except the last two questions. In fact, I gather that I have become a local minor celebrity as the Man Who Reads: “Look, Grandma, there’s the Man Who Reads. How come he doesn’t bump into things?” I did give the friend who told me of that conversation permission to tell her granddaughter that I sometimes walk into low hanging branches.
    Jonathan Shaws last blog post..Book Blog #40: Book Group

  11. I used to get into trouble as a child when we were on road trip type holidays because I was missing out on looking at the scenery. I would also take a book to the beach and have to endure my mother’s repeated pleas to put it away and have a swim.
    It’s a good thing I don’t suffer from motion sickness because I’m sure I’d have pushed myself to the limit and beyond reading in the car on a regular basis if I did.

  12. I always have a book in my bag. Right now I have a new one (a present – the Earthsea first4 omnibus!) in a brown paper bag in my backpack, smashed in between marked essays and class notes. I’m trying to stop it getting trashed.
    I read on trains, buses, planes, ferries. In cars. On the couch, in bed (never on the toilet – I don’t approve), at dance competitions, over breakfast (most especially over breakfast – I break fast alone and I NEED the quiet time over my tea and toast), when I’m waiting in queues… heck, I’ll read anywhere.
    But I’ve found the morning bus to UNSW (the 89whatever which is non-stop and FREAKIN’ SCARY FAST) makes me want to chuck, even without a book, so I don’t read on that leg. I take 2 PT types to the university, so I read on both.
    I also read standing up on trains, wedged in between other commuters. I rely on them to keep me standing.
    We’re not friends. If you have to ask me that, you’re either insane or really desperate to pull a root. Either way, we’re not being friends. I’d never root anyone who didn’t know how to not interrupt a reader.
    I never use an ipod on PT – I read.
    I read to block out creeps on PT.
    I read to kill half and hour in a queue.
    I read to get some quiet-me time.
    I have a friend who reads at dances – I envy her concentration.
    *taking breath now*
    …a colleague told me yesterday she didn’t have time for fiction any more. I was honestly shocked silent. I just can’t imagine not reading a lot, all the time. I’d go without food before I went without books.

  13. I quite like chatting with strangers on public transport, as long as they’re not insane strangers.
    And my parents never would let me read at the table (they had a thing about family meals, conversation etc).
    And I can’t read on trams, buses, in cars or on the train if I’m facing backwards. Train facing forwards is all good, planes are all good. Unfortunately, trains are too crowded to read on in the morning, at the moment, so I iPod. But I actually wake up half an hour earlier than I need to in the morning so I can have a cup of tea in bed while I read. And I can’t go to sleep at night without reading first (only one or two pages if I’m really tired, and it has to be fiction because non-fiction gets the brain going and then I can’t sleep).
    And Hugo and I read out loud to each other. Mostly YA fantasy.

  14. Last time I lost at at someone who interrupted my reading it was in Sydney University’s Fisher Library. They wanted to talk about Jesus. I wanted to get done and get home. Harsh words were exchanged.

  15. I snapped this on the way home from uni today, inspired by this thread– appropriate picture is appropriate. 🙂


    [admin magicked! ~tigtog]

  16. I always used to take a book everywhere – you never know when you’re going to be held up, or find yourself in a long queue for something – and those are times when you need a book, as well as for the bus/train etc! Nowadays, though, I take a two-year-old everywhere with me instead. Two-year-olds and books (unless it’s Postman Pat or something) do not mix! 🙂 These photos are great, I love them.

  17. I still take a book everywhere – it’s become a necessity like wallet, cellphone, and keys. Never had any motion sickness at all, thank Odin.
    And few things annoy me more than the question, “What’s THAT you’re reading?”. Except its inevitable follow-up, “What’s it ABOUT?”

  18. I decided that I would be voting against our current mayor because while I was sitting and reading a book, he decided to come up and “talk” to me. (In that no-content way that some politicians have.) I was both irritated because some guy I didn’t know decided to come up to me and start a stupid conversation, AND because I was reading a book.
    I hope he loses. Election’s next week.

  19. PS: I have a whole collection of photos of people reading at the Edinburgh Book Festival a few years back. All those great speakers, all those wonderful authors, and we were all reading.

    But what else would you do at a book festival, I ask? 🙂

  20. Once, at my old work, I was reading Sense and Sensibility during my lunchbreak, and one of my fellow staff-members decided that he needed to interrogate me as to why on earth I would read a book when it had already been made into a movie. I didn’t completely blow up at him, but I was close.

  21. Beppie, I imagine it was because you simply could not find the words.
    Buh. Guh. Snuh.

  22. Anna, do you have those photos up on Flickr? That would be a cool set to look through. (That mayor needs to be pwned. Totally pwned.)
    QoT, I hear you. They obviously don’t really care about the book, why do they have to ask questions about it?
    Debs – when my kids were wee I always had books in the nappy bag – books to read to them, and a book for me in case they were both asleep at the same time, which did actually happen often enough to make having the book in the nappy bag’s outside pocket worthwhile.

  23. The one good thing about the Canberra bus system is that it provides ample reading time. It took me years to reduce the amount of books in my bag to one. I used to have the one I was reading, the one in case I finished the one I was reading, the one in case I finished the one in case I finished the one I was reading, plus one or two more, just in case I didn’t like the one I was reading. Heavy. Another good thing about Canberra is the way post-teenage residents walk around reading their books, and generally don’t get run over.

  24. Dear Lord, Beppie, you are clearly a person with supernatural self-restraint.

  25. The first of my three wishes (when the genie finally decides to show up) is to never get motion sickness when reading. World peace is second.

    I read everywhere. And my library card (at the same library!) has been my most valuable posession since before I can remember. PLus everytime we moved one of the first things I have done is join the local library. Only then do I feel at home.

  26. Oh Dogpossum @ 12 how GREAT is reading over breakfast??? I’m a single mum and my kiddie has both ADHD and Asperger syndrome…so really? Peace and quiet to read over the breakfast table not on the cards as a regular feature for a while, but OHhhh the bliss!
    I also love reading while walking. I worked for an inner city law firm and got paid peanuts but had to bill out every minute. I’d saddle up for all the document lodging etc, plan my route, drag my trolley and read around the city – til my boss busted me. Damned anti-book-people!
    fuckpolitenesss last blog post..Paper suggestions: msm and the use of extreme photos to make points

  27. Reading was what holidays were all about in my family. We almost always went camping for vacations, so we’d drive to the campground, pitch the tent, and take off to find the nearest bookstore. We’d buy a few books each, and spend the rest of the vacation sitting around lawn chairs reading at each other.
    Good memories. 🙂

  28. I would get bugger all time to read if I didn’t breastfeed my toddler. That forty minutes or so after his daytime nap where we lie in the big bed and do feed&read is something I look forward to EVERY DAY. It works best with medium sized paperbacks 😉
    In the early days when he fed for four million hours every day I re-read all of Jane Austen’s books which was a joy.

  29. Sure, Tigtog. 🙂 Here is the whole set.

    And my fav pic of Don is of him spread out as far as he can spread (and he’s 6’10” – 2.09m) reading a book at Lindisfarne Priory in the UK. Much to my dismay I can’t find it right now, but I’ll track it down and submit it to the HAT Pool so you can all see how totally awesome he is, with his tallness (and bendiness).

  30. When I was a kid and we’d go out for Chinese or curry, I’d scoff my food and then sit under the table with a torch and a book. Yes, in public. It was the compromise my parents made between their dignity and the knowledge that the only time I ever shut up and stopped fidgeting was when I was reading.
    I read novels less these days, and it makes me sad. I’m trying to get in the habit of taking a book with me again during the day, instead of inevitably getting bored and fidgety and picking up some rubbish street press to read. I still have the urge to read constantly, there’s no reason other than laziness to feed it with crap instead of novels.
    I bought a total novelty gadget the other day, though:
    It’s a bookmark that lets you time how much in total you read! If you’re a “get lost reading and suddenly realise it’s four hours later when you accidentally finish the book” type like me, it can be ruefully amusing.

  31. A Japanese friend has just sent me to the Wikipedia page on Ninomiya Sontoku. In my friend’s childhood every school yard had a statue of this boy reading while walking. In some places us public readers are given places of honour.
    Jonathan Shaws last blog post..Book Blog #40: Book Group

  32. At least right now I’ve got a good amount of time reading. 30 minutes in the morning and at night on the bus commute, plus lunch time if I want. I also have a separate book for nighttime reading before bed.
    This just might change when our first baby is born in March. 😉

  33. I will rarely buy a bag of any kind that does not fit a standard paperback into it. But on the rare occasions that I have done so I have solved the problem of going bookless by buying appropriate sized books. I’ve a copy of WW1 Poetry that fits nicely into a clutchpurse, a Learn Chinese book that fits into a belt purse and, for a dainty evening or belt-purse a King James bible. Not that I am I Christian but because of the beauty of the language. (Except, of course for Genesis. Anyone who believes that a Supreme Being dictated that must also believe that he/she/it has too much time on their hands!).
    Even if late for work/an appointment I’ll race home rather than leaving the house bookless. And even a trip to the bank/p.o. etc requires a book because my fertile imagination conjures up the horrors of, say a hostage situation where I would be stuck for hours in a roomfull of total strangers without (shudder) a book.

  34. Hello! Generally a lurker, but I couldn’t think of anything to say on Thursday. However, I can say plenty about the joy of reading.
    I almost always have a book with me and am huge library addict. I read while commuting to and from work and I have almost missed my stop on several occasions because I’ve been so engrossed in the book of the day. I’ve found that I can’t read during my lunch hour because I never want to go back to work after becoming engrossed in the world of books. I can remember endlessly bugging my sister when she was reading on family holidays before I understood how great books are – now my mom has to yell at both of us to put down our books.
    In response to the big questions:
    1. I don’t get motion sickness from reading in a car and have even been able to enjoy books while sitting in the back seat of a car that is rocketing down an unpaved and un-graded dirt track. Unfortunately, this means that I tend to run out of stuff to read if I am not well prepared.
    2. I’ve never totally flipped out when someone interrupted my reading. However, I have pretended to not speak English, despite being caught reading a book written in English, on several occasions rather than respond to someone who stupidly comes up and starts talking to me.
    Also, I love all of the photos.

  35. Re: Pic 8.
    Oh my God … I’ve just realised that I’ve grown up to be Marcy.

  36. When I was a kid mum would scold me for reading while eating dinner at the table with her and dad.
    I’ll read anything I can get my hands on. Like others here, when I purchase a bag, the first question I ask myself is, “How many books will fit in here?”
    I’ve now spend two hours on the bus each day going to and from work, so I’ve been zooming through books like crazy lately.
    Ah reading. How I love you so.
    Gotta go – off to the bookshop! 🙂

  37. Oh, yes to everything–including the getting sick. What a fantastic post with great comments.
    I get to doctor’s appointments very, very early and am happy when the doctor is inevitably very, very late. It’s reading time with a side of a check-up.

  38. Beppie @7: I would read under my desk in primary school, thinking maybe the teacher wouldn’t notice, because I was bored. My parents were told about this and I was chastised…
    fuckpoliteness @26: I always read at breakfast unless yelled at. It’s an excellent time for anyone to get some done.

  39. Oh yes, Bene, I did a lot of reading under my desk in both primary school and high school!

  40. Me too – most of my teachers were fine about it, because I finished my work before reading, so they actually let my put my books on top of the desk while other students were still working. I was often lost in bookworld then though, so I’d get a few sharp remarks whenever I failed to notice that some more classwork had been put up on the board!

  41. I was also a rude little thing. whenever someone would try striking up a conversation with me by asking “what are you reading?” I’d lift up the book so they could read the title for themselves and keep on going.

    I still do that and I’m 55 years old. The person guilty of rudeness in this transaction is the person who interrupts the person reading to ask them what they’re reading.

  42. I got onto the internet and came here so I could read while I ate my snack, because I didn’t have a book started at the moment, and I am trying not to break into my stack of books I’m saving for when I go overseas 🙂 I love reading while eating, but I’ve never really done it while sitting with others – it’s ok if they’re reading (luckily my boyfriend likes it too) but I think it was an unspoken rule from my parents which puts me off – no reading while eating with others.
    When I was a kid I didn’t get sick from reading in cars, ever. Now I don’t do it much as it makes me headachey. Planes are fine, though.
    I’ve never lost it at anyone who asks me what I’m reading, although I’ve noticed that friends and family never bother to ask, only strangers or people who don’t know me well. Those who know me well enough know that I’m absorbed deeply enough in anything I’m reading to either (a) just not hear them talking or (b) give extremely short unsatisfactory answers.
    Funnily enough, I don’t read books during my lunch hour… I check the internet a bit during the day… There’s nowhere comfortable at work or outside (I’m another Canberran) to sit and read, and I *know* that I lose track of time too easily when reading. I’d have to set an alarm or something.

  43. I would always read everywhere. On public transport and in the car. Now alas I am the driver! Although I caught the train without the family to Sydney last week and it was fantastic to read for 2 and a half hours without interruption!
    I was the kid at all the family gatherings hiding in the corner nose in a book. I can’t eat breakfast without reading, even if it is only the cereal box for the millionth time.
    This thread has reminded me of what a joy reading is. I have found that as I am at the pointy end of a PHD reading has become a chore for the last little while.

  44. I always try to carry a book when I’m out and about (makes public transport bearable) but I’m finding the large format of many current novels a bit unwieldly. Bring back the railway novel I says, or perhaps I need to buy larger bags?
    I love to take myself out for coffee, cake and a good read. Thus I’ve got the ‘what are you reading?’ routine in public countless times. I’m polite but brief and people usually take the hint and let me get on with it.
    The only time I found it truly annoying was when a strange bloke innterupted me, proceeded to check that my reading material was sufficiently worthy (eg not some lighweight chick-type stuff) and then launched into a critique about what I ‘should’ have been reading instead.

  45. This thread has reminded me of what a joy reading is. I have found that as I am at the pointy end of a PHD reading has become a chore for the last little while.
    Oooh, you’re at the pointy end too!? *bonds with you*

  46. This post is a classic on the topic of being harassed while reading in public.

  47. I’m so enjoying this thread – no time to comment or asparagus will steam too much.
    (O/T: Asparagus $1 a bunch here in Melbourne and that’s just at the supermarket, probably 50c at the Vic market! Nerny nerny ner ner!)

  48. Oh yes, we’ve been binging on asparagus, along with the sugar snaps from the garden. Mmmm, greens.

  49. Miss Prism, thanks for the link to Zuska’s post – it reminded me that I haven’t been following there for far too long! I love the way that some men turned up to tell her that she’d Done It Wrong.

  50. Great post–I haven’t heard of her blog and I’ll have to pop in some. That one guy is particularly vicious/moronic. I like the idea of an Irony Mine.

  51. I was privileged enough to grow up in a bookish family, poor but bookish. So yes to many of those questions but I was never reprimanded for reading too much. I have a childhod memory of reading in a jacaranda tree a lot.
    My(adult)brother liked to weird people out in public by sitting on the train openly reading Enid Blyton books.

    I can’t read at all in a car or bus, but I can on a train or smooth-riding plane

    Dr Seuss, right?

  52. Yes to pretty much everything, except the motion sickness – I think I only read to motion sickness once, and the experience was too awful to do it again.
    Until my mother found me out, I used to read while doing my piano practice – once you’ve learned a piece, it’s pretty easy to play it on autopilot while reading a novel (although you have to pick the books with care so that they stay open – older hardbacks were the best).
    This is a great thread – I so rarely meet people with my level of addiction in real life!

  53. I’ve always been quite pleased to discuss my reading material with strangers (as long as they’re not sleazy). I’ve even, on occasion, commented if I’ve noticed someone’s reading a book that I really enjoyed, now I’m thinking I was wrong to do this, reading all these hostile comments about people who interrupt the readings…

  54. There’s a pretty big difference between “Hey, I see you’re reading X – how wonderful! I really enjoyed that, how are you finding it?” and “Wotcha reading? What’s it about? So you really like reading, huh?”. I’m sure most of us don’t mind engaging with obvious fellow reading enthusiasts, it’s the disruptive types who all too obviously don’t read themselves, or the superior types who want to pass judgement on what one is reading that are the problem.

  55. It’s so nice to read of all these other fellow compulsive readers! In half of my mid-highschool subjects I would rush my work and then beg the teacher to be allowed to either read or disappear to the library. Bliss!
    More recently, I went to Canada for a uni exchange with only two (relatively big) books for the 28 hour flight(s), so that I could fit them into my hand luggage and weight limit. As it turned out, the fantasy novel that I’d been saving up for the flight was dreadful (there wasn’t one positive/protagonistic character in sight). That combined with my utter misery at leaving my partner for four months made that one of the most utterly distressing experiences in my life, to the point that I was suffering anxiety attacks about the flight home. I’ve learnt to road-test the new authors I’m saving up for special times now!!! (The other book – the one that got me through with my sanity – was ‘The Logic of Life’, by Tim Harford, in case anyone wants a life-saver).
    On a side note, this blog just feeds my compulsive screen-reading. Tonight is one of many where my responsible intentions of doing work have gone down the drain in favour of reading Hoyden.

  56. I’m another who read under the desk in primary school. I also used to read while walking home from school, and in the playground at lunch time.
    I’m kind of sad that I drive to work. Wish there was some way to drive and read at the same time, I suppose I could try audiobooks but it just doesn’t seem the same, I think I’m too attached to the feel of a book.
    mimbless last blog post..Caitlin

  57. I Stumbleupon’d onto a post about an offensive t-shirt and found my way here!
    I love, love, LOVE to read. I must take a book with me no matter where I go, unless it’s a quick walk to the commons convenience store (I’m a university student). I even take them to places where I probably won’t read them, because you never know what could happen! I might just have a few seconds to read a single sentence, but no sentence, in my view, is a waste of time.
    I especially read on public transportation. But I love people, too, so I read, then look around and watch them, read and watch, read and watch, to a certain rhythm all my own (I’m obsessive-compulsive). It’s very relaxing.

  58. I carry around a small bag which has room for 2 books (1 fiction/1 non-fiction), wallet, phone and keys. It’s served me incredibly well since I got it as a gift years ago! I used to toss a few books in the car whenever I was going somewhere.
    I have read till carsick…. tactic would be to stop for a few minutes until it seemed to let up and then go back to reading!!
    When I was a kid I’d get so into reading my book that I wouldn’t realize people were talking to me. My grandparents thought I was an incredibly rude child. I’d also try to “sneak” read at dinner because I wasn’t allowed to. Now I think it laughable that they weren’t aware of what I was doing – I guess my parents just resigned themselves to it at some point.
    I work at a bookstore now and get a 40% discount. I’ve run out of shelf space, stacks of books are beginning to form on the floor! I will admit though, that I have a bit of an obsession with blogs and often find this replaces my book reading lately. Must… find.. balance!!
    Also, if you’re into cataloging your library, (or Library Thing) is awesome for that.

  59. As a kid, I threw up several times while reading on the long family holiday drives between Melbourne and Sydney.
    The story my mother still loves to tell is of me as a tweenie (probably from about age 8-12) reguarly getting so caught up in my morning reading that I would stand in the middle of my bedroom, in theory getting ready for school, wrapped only in a towel, and holding a book.
    I got yelled at for that a lot… mainly for the reason that I made everyone late…
    In high school I learned that I could in fact walk the two kms home while reading – it took me twice as long (I cannot read and walk at a pace faster than a mosey) – but was vastly more interesting than walking fast and getting home and THEN reading.
    As a big grown up girl these days, I tend to read in my spare bedroom, with a cup of coffee, and my little ipod stereo playing travis or coldplay or lior on a low volume 🙂

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