Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Reading Etiquette Question

This is one of those posts I always mean to do and then think, nah, that's dumb, at the last minute. But tonight my defenses are low!

So--when is it polite to read? Like, in social life?

Some background: I don't have enough time to read all that I want. Probably no one does. Since I am a public-transit passenger/reader, I always have a book with me, and if whatever I am doing has a lull in it, I am inclined not to waste the lull and thus I pull out the book. I read in line at the grocery store, lying on the table giving blood, in a blizzard waiting for the streetcar and, sometimes, also in social situations.

I've gotten some looks.

What do you think, fellow readers? Is it ok to read in a restaurant while your dining companion is in the bathroom? What about in someone's home when the homeowner has gone to the bathroom or to take a call? If only with a certain duration of calls, what's the trigger-minute? What about in a job interview and the interviewer leaves for an unmentioned length of time? What if you thought you were departing a party/office/theatre/whatever with someone, but then that person leaves you on the front steps to go back in to get something? What about in someone's car if the driver is talking on a cellphone? What about at a meeting that hasn't started yet when no one appears to want to talk to you? What if, after that meeting, you happen to fall into conversation with someone and get on the same bus together--are you then required to stare into space if the conversation dies, or can you say, "Great chatting with you" and pull out your book?

I'm a social person, I swear I would always pick the real conversation over the textual one, if there were one. But somehow, even when the person isn't actually available to talk to me, I feel they are someone how hurt to me reading on their time. Is this me being paranoid?

I really wish someone would solve these issues for me. They aren't a *large* source of stress, but...

Do you know your enemy?


Patrick McEvoy-Halston said...

What exactly is reading a book? Is it near full immersion in another world, with another consciousness? If I'm off to the bathroom and my partner dips into some sword and sorcery, I think I might ask her if she wants to finish the sword-fight, before partaking in some more tea. If flushed, I might encourage her to go out for a cigarette, and then we can resume.

I do think with the bus example, it's good form to thank someone for the good conversation (assuming it was good--don't lie), and commit to the book--if that's the space you want to enter. Honest, clear, fair to both of you--all good.

Trish said...

Yes, a thousand times, yes! It's totally okay to read when left alone at a friend's house, or when the conversation with your seat-neighbour on the streetcar dies. If it weren't for those moments, you wouldn't be able to read as many great books, right?

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

It's good to know others struggle with this stuff, too! Books and reality, books and is a delicate balance!