Meandering across the World Wide Web, I came across this post by Robert Gray on Fresh Eyes Now — The Delicate Art of Reading in Public — in which he said that he felt self-conscious while reading in public. At the end of that post, he asked "How do you feel about reading in public?” That spun off another one: Where Do You Love to Read? in which Gray collates some of the responses to the question.
I totally identify with Lev Raphael who noted that he "always felt naked in public if I didn't have something to read with me--magazine, newspaper or most often, a book." And with Lori Kauffman "[. . .] I think one of the best parts of living in a city with public transportation is that it provides a good excuse to read everyday--I actually look forward to my commute! (By the way, I find that an excellent test of how good a book is how close I come to missing my stop because I'm too engrossed in what I'm reading.)"
I actually don't recollect the last time I boarded a train (probably the most common mode of transport in Mumbai and its suburbs), and didn't have a book on me. I carry a book with me always when I am commuting — most of my book reading, these days, happens during my morning and night commute to and from office. This holds true even on the rare days that I may not be carrying my haversack with me. I then usually have a book that fits in my pocket or is a comfortable "handheld." I read the most in Mumbai's suburban trains — it probably helps me to shut out the crowd. It is also true that this is the only time that I find for any reading on weekdays. Having indulged in this for many years, I have become adept at it. The minute I find enough space in a train to wriggle out a book, I read. I have usually found that fellow commuters, even in the most crowded of train compartments, considerately give you an extra inch or two of space so that you can read without assuming any acrobatic poses. While I hate my daily commute, reading makes it bearable. And if I am reading a particularly interesting book, I actually look forward to my commute and pray that I find a corner seat the minute I board the train (It has happened a few times). Sometimes, when I am reading an awesomely interesting book, I wish that the train is delayed in between stations so that I could read a few more pages. Like Lori Kauffman, I find the test of a good book, lies in how close I get to my station before I reluctantly and hastily put the book away and then elbow all my fellow commuters out of my way while rushing to the door. In all these years, if I remember right, I have missed my stop twice. Of all the public spaces, the Mumbai suburban train, in spite of a few WTF! experiences, remains my favorite place to read. It has become a bit challenging in the last few years with the ubiquitousness of loudspeaker cell phones and commuters who insist on playing their music for everybody. I admit, lately, I have fought down the urge to grab one such irritating commuter (he was playing Himesh Reshammiya songs) and read out aloud a few pages from my book to him.
I don't particularly like reading in buses (I find it strenuous) and have never managed to read anything in Mumbai's BEST buses. I do read on the office bus every morning. Possibly because, it is usually the same bus everyday and I know that my colleagues will bring me back to reality when the bus reaches the office. Also the commute from Ghatkopar to Andheri drags so slowly through all that traffic that it would be a criminal waste of time, if I don't read my daily 30 pages. Like with trains, when I am reading a particularly interesting novel, I wish for (and usually get) a major traffic snarl.
I also sometimes read at railway stations — when the book is interesting or, as it happens late in the night, I have missed a train and know the next one to my stop is a minimum of 30 minutes away. And yes, it has happened that I have been so engrossed in reading that I have missed the next train as well. I remember this one time, when I was teaching, I was reading Stephen Hawking, A Life in Science. I alighted at my railway station, early morning and decided to dip into a few more pages before making my way to the college. I assuaged my guilt by convincing myself that my students wouldn't mind if I turned up a few minutes late. I missed the lecture. In my defense, the book was interesting and it was a Business Communication class.
Restaurant and coffee shops are other public places where I read — usually while waiting for my order and sometimes even while eating or sipping coffee. Most restaurants don't mind you cornering a table to yourself and reading as long as you order something. At least till now I have not had a bad experience in a restaurant for taking my time over a book. The "happening" coffee places, however, I find are not that very tolerant. Usually I end up in such places and reading because I am waiting for a friend to turn up. After 30 minutes or so I have had waiters pointedly ask me if I would like to order more coffee, in spite of noticing that the cup I am sipping is still half-full. The same waiters are happy to let a noisy gang hang around for hours.
Where else do I read? I sometimes go for a movie alone. I find that the time before the ushers let you inside the hall, is a good time as any to catch up on my reading. I have received a few amusing glances at cinema halls. For some reason, while people find it perfectly reasonable for you to read in a train, find it perplexing that you are reading at a theater.
Well that's about it all when it comes to reading in public and me. Where do you love to read?