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Sunday Salon: Reading on the Go

March 18, 2012


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I always find it fascinating when bloggers mention whipping out a book to read while they wait in line. There is no way I could do that; in fact, even if I’m at home and now I’m going to leave in about ten minutes, I won’t open my book. I prefer to lose myself in an author’s world, and to read in ‘chunks’ of between forty and sixty pages at a time. At the very least, I want to know I’ll be able to finish a chapter before I start one. If I try stop-and-go reading, I often find myself being annoyed by the book or feeling like I can never quite catch my breath. To have a wonderful reading experience, I need time and space to settle into the book. This doesn’t mean I’m one of those who stares off into space in lines or waiting rooms. My solution is to just bring an Economist with me; since it’s a magazine, the articles are much shorter, so I can usually get through at least one. I save my books for longer stretches of reading time. I realise this is a luxury, and of course if my only choice were to read in bits and pieces I’d choose that over never reading. But as it is, I only carry a book in my purse when I’m going some place, like a cafe or restaurant, where I intend to read.

I had already planned to write about this when I fortuitously came across the following passage in Nancy Malone’s Walking a Literary Labyrinth:

The need that some of us have to change our prayer and reading to suit our circumstances points to at least two kinds of readers and prayers: pilgrims and monks. There are those, like Muslims unfurling their prayer rugs no matter where they are and orienting themselves towards Mecca, who can find “here” anywhere. And there are those who need a “monastery.” I am a monk. For me, focused reading and praying seem to require the same conditions: a certain stability, a sense of myself, the ability to give my full attention to what I am doing, and a deree of physical comfort.

I’ll happily join Malone in the monk camp! So, which are you?

Books I Would Have Loved, Except for One or Two Little Quibbles or Books I Really, Really Liked


Read The Perfectly Imperfect Home by Deborah Needleman & Virginia Johnson if…you’re looking for decorating inspiration or just in need of some eye candy (the rooms are all protrayed as these fun, gorgeous sketches) or you need a Domino fix.

Read Unnatural Causes by P.D. James if…you enjoy mysteries that focus as much as on the characters’ psychology as on clues.

Read Walking a Literary Labryinth by Nancy M. Malone if…you love memoirs, especially those of a literary and religious bent and don’t have the expectation that this is solely a ‘book about books’ (it’s as much about Malone’s life experiences than her literary ones).

Books I Definitely Liked, Although They Didn’t Blow Me Away or Books that had Great Points Counterbalanced by Not-Great Ones


Read Fury by Salman Rushdie if…you’re working your way through his books and are curious to see what his mid-life crisis produced (that’s my only explanation, anyway; take heart, the last sixty-ish pages sort of redeem the middle bits, enough for me to go from two stars to a grudging three at least).

Read Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson if…you want some new ideas for photography that’s focused on the philosophical/artistic angle as much as the more technical side (also, I read the 1988 original edition, which made me deeply grateful for digital cameras and their instant feedback!).

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2012 6:20 am

    Oh my gosh. I am so totally a monk. If I don’t have at least half an hour to read, I usually just don’t bother. I do carry a book with me most of the time, in case I do get a longer block of time, but if I’m just waiting in line of something, I’m more likely to check my e-mail on my phone, make a list in my notebook, or just sit with my thoughts. I can’t settle into a book if I know I’m going to get called away from it at any moment.

    • Jenny permalink
      March 19, 2012 10:19 pm

      Ha! My co-blogger is a monk and I am a pilgrim. I take a book with me everywhere, and I take it out if I have five spare minutes. I can also read if my children are playing loudly around me, if someone is conducting a noisy conversation over me, or if my husband is talking to me every…. few minutes… about NPR. I take joy in taking reading time where I can!

  2. March 18, 2012 7:05 am

    As a kid, I would bring books to any event that could possibly bore me, which meant pretty much anything short of a movie. (…I was a weird kid.) So I’m used to catching a paragraph here and there. While there are some books I prefer to sit down with and sink into, my schedule doesn’t always allow for it, so I read whenever I can. Having that Kindle app on my phone definitely helps…

  3. March 18, 2012 7:32 am

    I wish immensely I could be a monk, but if I didn’t squeeze in that five minutes here and ten minutes there I’d *never* finish a book. :/ When life becomes quieter, and I know it eventually will, I wonder if I’ll break that “steal every moment” habit or if I’ll find that it’s a habit that’s harder to break that I imagine.

  4. March 18, 2012 8:49 am

    I think I am both a reading pilgrim and a monk. Ever since I was a child I have read in small snatches while doing other things – I read while brushing my teeth, while eating, while changing clothes (yes, really), etc. Sometimes these moments are the only chance I get to read in a day. On the other hand, I certainly welcome longer stretches of time to read. And I have found that if I read a whole book in small snatches I don’t always feel like I ever got as in to it as I do with books that I was able to read at least part of in a longer stretch.

  5. March 18, 2012 9:07 am

    *giggles* I like your description of Fury. That’s how I felt too — although it did contain a really good line about how New York gives you the impression that you’re in the middle of a city that doesn’t need you as a character. I can’t remember exactly what the line was, but I remember feeling it was the only good bit of the book.

  6. March 18, 2012 9:09 am

    Yeah, I’m with you. I like to read in concentrated chunks, so while I bring a book with me just in case, I never ship it out for just a few minutes of reading. That simply doesn’t work for me!

  7. March 18, 2012 9:21 am

    I’m definitely a monk and like Teresa, I have to have at least half an hour, if not twenty minutes, to read. I do read on my dinner break (about half an hour) at work. I’ve been reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 2 there and probably will be done sometime this summer.

  8. samantha1020 permalink
    March 18, 2012 10:53 am

    I’m a pilgrim for sure but that is because I have three young kids. I have to find time to read wherever and whenever I can :) I do cherish the times when I get the chance to read uninterrupted for periods of time. I’ve been meaning to try P.D. James out. I love a good mystery and have his first book on my TBR list. Hope you have a great week Eva!

  9. March 18, 2012 11:38 am

    I suppose I’m a bit of a pilgrim. I tend to get restless when I read for too long and have to get up and do something else for a while. (I pilgrimed my way through In Search of Lost Time over two years, reading it before bed and with other books going on at other times, but always able to sink back down into Proust’s wonderful world when I had a quiet moment.)

  10. March 18, 2012 11:54 am

    If I slip a book out to read ‘on the go’ it is usually when I expect a long wait… If I just have a few minutes to read here and there I find myself more annoyed than anything. My worst is when I think I have a lot of time to read and then get interrupted a bunch of times. That generally leaves me cranky…

  11. March 18, 2012 12:49 pm

    I’m a pilgrim. I read anywhere and everywhere. But it depends on the book. Not all books are suited for “on the go”. Some books I definitely need to be a monk for. Perhaps I really am a pilgrim…I pray along the way but when I reach the shrine I take my time and retreat into the text. :) A great question!

  12. Lorraine S. permalink
    March 18, 2012 1:23 pm

    We have a lady in our housing development who power walks while her head is stuck in a book. My husband thinks it’s dangerous. I think I’ll ask her if she wants to join the book group I lead for our university women’s group!

    • jeanlp permalink
      March 18, 2012 3:33 pm

      Ha, I used to do that while walking to school. I got a good half of Tom Jones read while walking on busy city streets! I’m good at watching my step and reading at the same time, I guess.

  13. March 18, 2012 2:23 pm

    Raising hand—MONK HERE. I don’t even know how people ride the subway trains while reading. One hand’s on the above-head rail, the train’s rocking back and forth and there they are reading! Shocker. But I love it. It gives me goosebumps as a writer/reader, book whore.
    :-)

  14. March 18, 2012 2:29 pm

    I’m a Muslim (or a pilgrim) – in both senses of the word. ;) Fascinating quote – I think I need to check this book out.

    I love your quotes from books about books and reading – so often they send me straight to Goodreads to add the books to my to-read shelf. I just added Naomi Shihab Nye’s book of essays as well.

  15. March 18, 2012 2:36 pm

    I’m definitely a bits-and-pieces sort of reader! Even when I’m reading at home, I generally only read in maybe 20 minute chunks. If I can manage not to be distracted by the computer/TV/family/etc., though, sometimes I can read for longer. :D

  16. March 18, 2012 2:49 pm

    It depends! When I’m on a bus for more than an hour or so (today I had a 2 hour bus trip), time passes faster and much more pleasantly with a book (actually, speaking of Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, can’t even describe the wonderful experience this one has been for me). There are people who can actually sit with a book anywhere and read. At home or at the library are ideal places but parks, cafes, anything goes as long as there’s nothing too distracting! But you’re very busy I guess that any moment you can spend with a book is Godsent!

    • March 18, 2012 5:30 pm

      Oh, I can definitely read in cafes and parks and on planes! As long as I know I have time to sit & read, I don’t much care if I’m at home or not; I don’t get distracted by things going on around me. But it has to be for a decent amount of time.

  17. jeanlp permalink
    March 18, 2012 3:31 pm

    Nope, I’m a pilgrim. Otherwise I’d never get anything much read. I read while brushing my teeth or cooking dinner, or whenever I can.

  18. cbjamess permalink
    March 18, 2012 4:02 pm

    I’ll let you decide what sort of reader I am. I tend to do some of my best reading while alone in a crowd. I love to read on a bus or on a train. While waiting for the movie to start, used to be a great time for me to read. If I really want to read for an hour or two, I’ll go to a coffee shop and find a good seat. I do read at home, sometimes for hours in a sitting, but after a few hours, I’ll go out somewhere and read.

    I guess one can make a pilgrimage to a monastery, yes.

  19. March 18, 2012 4:37 pm

    I’m sort of a pilgrim. I carry a book with me at all times, since I’m happy to whip through a few pages if I’m waiting for an appointment or riding the bus or whatever, but there are certain conditions that prevent me from reading. I can’t read if there’s a TV on, for example, or if people are talking loudly nearby. (Music is fine.) I need to maintain a certain level of concentration, but as long as I can do so, I can read anywhwere, for any length of time at a stretch.

  20. Chelsea permalink
    March 18, 2012 5:15 pm

    You know, on the whole I’d have to say that while I’m currently a pilgrim (habits I picked up while going to school and working, when time to read was scarce) I find myself getting more and more annoyed when I have to put down a book to keep doing whatever my other task is. This may be because I’m currently reading a healthy dose of Victorian lit, and I agree with Zee – some works just don’t lend themselves to sporadic reading. I try and take a half hour walk with the puppy everyday, which is often my best reading time – yes, I can read and walk at the same time! It’s a rather surprising ability considering my somewhat innate clumsiness.

  21. March 18, 2012 6:13 pm

    I’m totally not a monk. I can read anywhere and everywhere. (And I do.) It’s either that or daydream :-)

  22. March 18, 2012 6:29 pm

    I was struck by your picture of the man crossing the plaza paper in hand! Reading while walking is a big taboo to me. The image brought me right back to the time when I was so busy checking out an article as I rather rushed along a school hallway to help in my son’s classroom, that I missed the small step of stairs but my head didn’t. Short version; the children had to be sent out to recess via other routes due to the blood on the stairs while I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.
    These days I do my reading sitting down or at least in a stationery position where I know I don’t have to budge for at least ten minutes. Reading in shorter snippets doesn’t work for me at all.

    In fact, I find both of Jean’s responses to your post quite outrageous! Reading while walking!
    Reading while brushing! Woah! This is clearly a reader who likes living on the edge.

    “Jaeanlp permalink

    March 18, 2012 3:33 pm

    Ha, I used to do that while walking to school. I got a good half of Tom Jones read while walking on busy city streets! I’m good at watching my step and reading at the same time, I guess.
    and
    jeanlp permalink

    March 18, 2012 3:31 pm

    Nope, I’m a pilgrim. Otherwise I’d never get anything much read. I read while brushing my teeth or cooking dinner, or whenever I can.”

    • jeanlp permalink
      March 18, 2012 11:04 pm

      I’m outrageous, yay! People don’t call me that very often. :D

      • March 19, 2012 3:56 pm

        I hope you mean that. I would give anything for someone to call me outrageous!

      • jeanlp permalink
        March 19, 2012 10:33 pm

        Yes, I mean it! :)

  23. March 18, 2012 8:34 pm

    I think I’m naturally a monk, but I just don’t have long stretches in my days anymore that I can devote to reading. I’ve had to adapt to pilgrim-style. :)
    And thanks for including Learning to See Creatively in your list of books. I just got a new DSLR camera and could use some tips on thinking more creatively while taking photos.

  24. March 19, 2012 6:31 am

    I would not read much if I didn’t read on the go, I do a lot of reading on my (10-15) minute train trip everyday, and then when I get to my stop I usually keep reading while walking home. Once I pick up a book it can be hard to put it down again! But I love to have a book with me so that if I have a spare couple of minutes I don’t have to get bored, but I can dip back into whatever I’ve been reading, which is especially good when I am really into a book and keep thinking about it even when I’m at work.

  25. March 19, 2012 8:48 am

    I have to admit, I’m one of those readers who reads in little snippets and gets reading in whenever and wherever she can. I think that’s something I started doing in college. I’m a slow reader and was overwhelmed by all the reading I had to do so I got reading in whenever I could. I still do that as I have to read a lot of books for work, I work full-time and I also want to enjoy books I chose on my own. Sometimes I’m able to find an hour or two to read but most often I only get reading time in 10-15 minute increments. I’ve read books on treadmills and elliptical trainers, during commercial breaks of TV shows, in my car during a lunch break, etc. But you are right, it’s a much better experience when you can lose yourself in the book for a good amount of time instead of visiting it in short snippets.

  26. March 19, 2012 3:01 pm

    I m a chunk reader like you prefer a good hour or so to fall into the pages of the books I m reading ,all the best stu

  27. March 19, 2012 6:35 pm

    I’m more of a monk: I need to sink into those chunks of reading time. I used to be able to read more anywhere, anytime, but not so much lately.

  28. March 19, 2012 7:13 pm

    I’m certainly a pilgrim – I can find Mecca anywhere. I read while walking and in tiny chunks while doing other things. Plus I read for hours alone at home monkishly whenever I can ;) Perhaps coincidentally, I’ve just read Malone’s book & posted my review today! Great minds & all that…

  29. March 19, 2012 8:22 pm

    Like a few other commenters, I think that becoming a parent has changed me from a monk to a pilgrim. Sometimes you just have five minutes while waiting to pick up your little one from school or ten minutes while they are getting their teeth cleaned and you know that this could be your only reading time all day long so you go for it! You also start expecting interruptions and know that you can’t complain to your child when they happen so you just relax and read in smaller snippets whenever you can. Such is life!

  30. March 21, 2012 2:20 am

    I am not a monk, per se, I think. At home or visiting, I can read even if other people are talking around me. But I cannot get out my book for just a few pages waiting in line. I do need to be able to sit comfortably.

  31. March 22, 2012 6:08 pm

    Very much a pilgrim – I’ll read anywhere, in a shopping queue or while I’m waiting for a slow website to load – half a minute is enough for me to read half a page, and that’ll do! And like the man in the photo, I often read whilst walking around town. I think it’s because I read quite a few books at once anyway, so I don’t feel I need to devote long chunks of time for reading; my reading is episodic already.

  32. EllenB permalink
    March 23, 2012 7:58 pm

    Small world department: I linked on through Simon’s blog only to find Nancy Malone who taught me Latin in high school! Her book is lovely, yes? As is your post and I am so happy to find you and to have the new opportunity to follow your blog. By the way, for most of my reading I am a pilgrim and never go anywhere without a book, although it may not be the same book I am immersed with at home.

  33. March 24, 2012 2:50 pm

    I so love that quote!! Sometimes I do require long uninterrupted reading stretches… but sadly I don’t always get that in my life currently. When I’m super engrossed in a book, I will read it whenever and wherever I can sneak in a few pages!!

  34. March 25, 2012 4:04 pm

    I’m a pilgrim, but definitely agree with some in this thread who say that some books demand that their readers be more like monks. Some of my favorite books are like that. When I find one that demands monkishness of me, I find a way to create a monk’s cell or a day or two. Nick Harkaway’s books demand monkishness of me, for instance, and they’re my favorites by a living author.

  35. March 27, 2012 10:10 am

    I used to be a Monk, but now I am more of a Pilgrim although it certainly depends on the book I am reading.

    I read in queues – I read on the short 5 minute ferry journey, I’ll read walking from my seat on the ferry to till the last possible minute when I have to put it down and actually look where I am going.

    Occasionally a book has captivated me so much that I’ve walked and read the short distance from bus stop to my house. All I need is music and I can block out everything else and just disappear into a book even for a short time.

    It wasn’t always I could do this and to tell the truth in the last few years my reading has become fragmentary. I can’t seem to concentrate for long expanses of time on a book. I get distracted – need a cup of tea, need to write a review or look something up for instance. Something somewhere within me has changed and I actually find it easier to read in snatches than in blocks.

    I’d like to get back to that monastic way of reading – but you see, here I am replying to this blog post when I should actually be reading my book…

  36. Debbie permalink
    April 3, 2012 4:56 am

    Just wanted to add two reading styles that seem pertinent to this discussion; my brother lived a very short train journey from his work-place a couple of years ago; so rather than just getting a couple of pages of novel read, he took to reading poetry. So he was a poetry pilgrim for a while there. A friend of a friend of my mother’s thought nothing of reading a novel throughout the annual district fancy-dress ball, the social high-light of the year. That’s pilgrimage too I suppose, fanatically so!

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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