Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reading in Public

If you've come across this blog before, you probably know that I enjoy talking about reading as much as--well, reading. That's why I enjoyed this post by Scott Aiken and Robert Talisse, about "Reading Weird Books in Public," over at 3 Quarks Daily. Apparently, people have strong reactions to what others read. Think of it as a kind of social marginalia.

As an academic whose professional life revolves around reading, I bring books everywhere. There is always reading to be done, and, as a parent who must drop-off and pick-up children on a daily basis, I am often waiting, with time to kill. Why not catch up on the latest journal? Take notes on a book for research? Prep for the next class reading? It doesn't really matter whether it's at the mall or gymnastics class or on the soccer field--if there's light, I can read.

Apparently this is not always cool. Usually, I don't ever get more than a second glance, or someone wise-cracking "a little light reading, eh?," when I am spotted outside of the classroom with an academic monograph. Of course, there was that one time when a woman on a plane was curious about my copy of David Mitchell's The Cloud Atlas and asked if I were "studying to be a meteorologist." And I do still get grief from my family about the time I sat amidst roaring fans in the stands at a high school football game, engrossed in Brian Ward's Just My Soul Responding. (In my defense, I had class the next morning).

Inappropriate reading has a long history, reaching at least into the 18th century, including workers sharing pamphlets, housewives engaging in novels instead doing housework, etc. (see I never really thought about the extent to which we still maintain all kinds of prescriptions and rules about what, when, and where to read. It may not be threatening anymore, but it can still provoke.

For more on the contemporary phenomenon of reading in public, be sure to check out:
Underground New York Public Library

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