April 25, 2009

An essay about how when you're reading a Kindle in public, people don't see what book you're reading.

The idea is: you won't like a Kindle if you're one of those people who read books in public with the cover up in a position for strangers to admire.

Are there really still people like that? Are you one of them? Were you ever? Have you ever approached a stranger and initiated a conversation because you noticed the book he (or she) was reading?

What book titles would most rouse you to talk to a stranger? And if people don't go up and talk to strangers because of the book they are reading in public, with the cover up where you can see it, then what do we have? Lonely readers forever nursing the hope that someone will appreciate their intelligence, sensitivity, and taste! What are the lonely readers reading that reinforces such unlikely patterns of hope?

Ironically, if you are out in public with a Kindle, lots of people will come over and talk to you about it —
Hey, is that a Kindle 2? What do you read on that thing? Are you some kind of voracious reader or something?

Just keeping up with the blogs. Have to read the blogs...
Romance ensues.


rhhardin said...

``How To Torture Your Friends'' Peter Storm and Paul Stryfe (1941) was good to carry in high school. You'd get a laugh occasionally.

A collection of puzzles, still on the upstairs bookshelves with acquired books. eg.

29. Punctuate the following so that it makes sense:

``Robinson where Brown had had had had had had had had had had been approved.''

That was before waterboarding.

hdhouse said...

There was a time when books were thought to be chick magnets...Exodus in 8th grade, Lord of the Flies in 10th yada yada....oh for the days.

Now you go to the beach of the pool with a book of interest to you and you seem to be the only one....damn the ipod.

Wince said...

I find that slipping certain book jackets over just about any other book will usually get you a seat on the bus.

Ann Althouse said...

Robinson, where Brown had had "had," had had "had had." "Had had" had been approved.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

"Have you ever approached a stranger and initiated a conversation because you noticed the book he (or she) was reading?"

Oh yes, many times. Had books I was reading commented on, too. It's not about impressing the other person with your cerebralism, it's about discovering that you have something in common. Usually SF, action-adventure, history/biography.

Unknown said...

A friend met her husband when she noticed him reading in a coffeeshop and commented on his book. It was probably some pretentious poetry BS. (I think she could have done better, but I'm not the one married to him so my opinion does not matter.)

Jason (the commenter) said...

Ironically, if you are out in public with a Kindle, lots of people will come over and talk to you about it —

That's a short lived phenomenon. Once they become ubiquitous, people will stop asking about them and you will instead be dealing with isolation greater than when you were reading books.

The same thing happened with music. You used to play something at work on a CD and people would ask you about what you were listening to. Then iPods came in and people would ask you about the iPod. But once everyone knew about them, that whole line of conversation stopped. The isolation increased, because who's going to bother someone with microphones in their ears? The same will happen with the Kindle. People wont want to bother people using a computer, and there's no info on what the person is reading/doing to risk the chance of starting a conversation.

former law student said...

Have you ever approached a stranger and initiated a conversation because you noticed the book he (or she) was reading?Once. On jury duty I noticed the woman across from me was reading a book by the same author. Then mine was one of the numbers called to go to a courtroom, and the conversation ended.

Gee, she might have been Wife No. 2. I should read in public more often. Or not.

one of those people who read books in public with the cover up in a position for strangers to admire.I worked with one when this book came out: He was a single man in his forties. He would read (or pretend to read) "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" in the cafeteria at lunch, hoping some woman would think he must be a Sensitive New Age Guy (SNAG for short), and come over to chat. He did get married, in his early fifties, but I don't know if the reading ploy worked or not.

Reading books with the cover up doesn't have to mean you're intentionally displaying them. I find I have to shift positions a lot when I read a hardback. Sometmes the cover is displayed, other times it's concealed.

The time to have a Kindle is college. A commuting student, I was always carrying 50 pounds of textbooks around with me.

traditionalguy said...

The art of interacting with a stranger would be a great course that The Professor needs to design to sell online and teach internet Nerds a whole new world. We are already getting some chapter previews here. The book inquiry is a safe curiosity question to get a quick taste of the other's mental and emotional intelligence level. I tend to avoid the Mystery readers who are hiding out in their book. The open reader will often have a new book by a good author you know, or an old book that has grabbed their attention which shows an active intellect and self confidence. I recently re-discovered Leaves of Grass, and have been as smitten as I was by reading Shakespere as an adult . Whitman designed that book like a 60's blogger...1860's that is.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

People flaunt (or hide!) their book covers on the NYC subway every day.

My observation: hot artsy girls like Murakami, Twilight, and Ayn Rand.

Simon Kenton said...

For me it was always intransitive. Some concentrating young beauty in a coffee shop looking at an honest-to-God tome, inches and inches thick, repellent dark cover. You approach, thinking sentimentally that it's so pleasant to see someone reading a real book (second prong: she's lovely). It's Tribe on Conlaw. She freezes you with harried indifference. You retreat in confusion.

You're on the bus, re-reading "Odi et amo." An affable ancient woman sits down beside you. It is operational miasma - her perfume is so thick your nose seals and your eyes water. It's like inspissated essence of urinal cake, it's just so flowery and hygenic. She says in an anile thready high cracking voice, "Oh, you're reading."

"Yes." She wants to know what and you silently hand over the book, trying to force out clouds of interruption repellent against the vapor pressure of the perfume.

"Why, this isn't even in English."


"My husband was a great reader. Always had his mind in a book. So quiet, too. Ah, he was a brilliant man, brilliant, but all his brilliance did not preserve him from Death."

Retreat is out of hope. You cough, slip Catullus back next to the concealed .45 in the briefcase, and say "Tell me more about your husband. He sounds so interesting."

For me the reading ploy never produced an equilibration. When interested I repelled, when trying to repel I interested.

Freeman Hunt said...

“If you’re going to pay that, you’re giving a statement to the world that you like to read — and you’re probably not using it to read a mass market paperback.

And then this:

Publishers will no longer get the bump that comes when travelers see someone reading, say, the latest James Patterson and say to themselves: “I’ve been meaning to get that. I think I’ll buy a copy at Hudson News before I hop on the train.

A distinction without a difference?

Freeman Hunt said...

I used to hide the covers of books specifically to avoid giving an in to men looking to strike up a conversation. Lots of people will use your book cover as an opening to hit on you. Also hid them as a teenager to avoid adults asking, "Are you reading that for school?"

Now I only find myself hiding the cover if I think it will offend someone. For example, I always hide the covers of overtly political books. I figure there's no need to broadcast one's politics in smalltalk situations. I wouldn't break out into conversation about politics or religion with a complete stranger, and I see this as an extension of that.

Freeman Hunt said...

This made me laugh out loud:

Years ago, he walked into a temporary job with a copy of “Ulysses.” “I wanted people to know I wasn’t just a temp,” he said, “but rather a temp who was reading ‘Ulysses.’

That sort of temp, huh? A temp who wants you to know that he's really too good for the job is a pretty run of the mill temp. And sort of cutely neurotic. People do not generally sit around the office thinking about how all the temps or low level employees must be somehow deficient. People generally just assume that, like anyone else who works, the temp needed a job.

Ann Althouse said...

"She freezes you with harried indifference."

In that phrase, I see the explanation for why no stranger has *ever* picked me up.

former law student said...

People do not generally sit around the office thinking about how all the temps or low level employees must be somehow deficient.Men, at least, get their identities from their jobs. If you're a temp, you feel adrift. Being able to redefine yourself outside of work anchors you once again.

I worked for a high powered guy who was forced out in his late 50s. Rather than try to get another job, he redefined himself as a youth soccer coach.

Lovernios said...

You might not get brought before the Diversity Police for reading a book with "KKK" on the cover.

Buford Gooch said...

"What book titles would most rouse you to talk to a stranger? "

Maybe a beautiful woman reading, "I Like to Have Sex With Strangers"?

Cedarford said...

An interesting point. We derive part of our "commonality" and ensuent reason to meet, greet, and socialize from seeing signals in public of people who by appearance, attire, posessions, and books displayed we know we share common interests with - or who at least provoke our curiosity.
As Kindle "masks" some of those signals, it promotes further separation atomization of people.

The old joke of "what's your sign?" "Ah, I see from your necklace that you are Eastern Orthodox" are just other ways, mostly deliberately intended - to attract attention from kindred souls.

RigelDog said...

I have sometimes made a pleasant remark to someone based on what I see them reading; usually because I have read the same book and enjoyed it. Sometimes people have done the same with me.
Since I live in the Philadelphia area, I don't feel comfortable being seen reading books with an obvious not-left political slant.

Harris Trinsky said...

I looked at it from the opposite point of view: you could be, say, Chief of Surgery at a prestegious medical facility and no one would know you were plowing through a Jackie Collins novel.

Anonymous said...

Once on a New York City bus I was reading a Wodehouse omnibus, 3 or 4 Jeeves and Wooster books in one volume, and a guy accosted me, trying to have a conversation about his "friend, Christopher Hitchens" and how Hitchens considers "Code of the Woosters" the best Jeeves book. I didn't respond very well, as I am shy and I think Hitchens is a jackass and an overrated writer, even when I agree with him, just kind of nodding and "ahh"ing.

I face the issue of being embarrassed by what I am reading more often than that of using what I am reading to impress people. Once I read a big thick collection of Mickey Spillane novels, and I bent the cover and spine all to hell trying to hide the cover, which showed a photo of a woman showing off her chest and her automatic pistol.


stoqboy said...

I was at a bus stop reading a book one time when a woman said to me "You must be a good Christian." Not having any idea what she was talking about I said "Excuse me?" She said, "The book you're reading, 'God in the Kingdom'" Of course, she was seriously pissed when I pointed out that it was "Golf" and not "God."

kentuckyliz said...

I wouldn't interrupt someone who was reading. That's rude.

I would resent someone who interrupted my reading.

Maybe that's why I'm single....LOL

I like my Kindle so I can read fluff because I'm so burned out on highminded lichrachah and dry profession-related reading. I lahk mah stories.

Kirk Parker said...


"Gee, she might have been Wife No. 2. "

Mormon, or Muslim? Either way, I had no idea (nttawtt.)

Chris said...

This post brings to mind an Onion classic, from the Golden Age.

KJohnson said...

I usually read with the spine up and hold paperbacks at eye level. I read a lot and it's just easier on my neck.

shade said...

I once read DM Thomas's Tne White Hotel while riding public transportation. Those who have read that book will know why it was not the cover of the book that I was worried about people noticing.

andi225 said...
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