Should strangers get to know what you are reading?

Should strangers get to know what you are reading?

“I ended my night at Lolita, on Broome Street in SoHo, recommended to me by friends. It’s a languid, sprawling space, with an excellent pink cursive neon sign in front, where most of the women looked like extras from an episode of Lena Dunham’s HBO series, “Girls.” I would report to you the books they were carrying, but the only readers in the bunch were grasping Kindles. When it’s no longer possible to tell what attractive young women are reading, part of the romance of Manhattan is gone. It’s time to move to Sheboygan and open a deli.”

One of my readers alerted me in a private e-mail to that quotation, which is in this

New York Times article

by Dwight Garner.

Honestly, my first reaction was that the author seemed like a creep.

It felt like an invasion of privacy. That writer wanted to tell the public what people were reading?

That’s like telling people what other people are thinking…or whispering to each other…or who they are dating.

Reading can be a very private thing. What if the book was one to help you through a time of grief? What if it was to help prepare you to do something deeply personal?

This is a bit of a head-spinning change of perspective for me.

After all, I’ve actually met people because of what I was reading.

I was in a park once, reading a specialized magazine. I had someone tentatively approach me who was part of a non-profit involved with that issue. That led to a long and significant part of my life, where I ended up sitting on the Board of that group for a period.

That wouldn’t have happened if the magazine wasn’t apparent.

However, as I think about it, weren’t we largely acting as unpaid advertisers for the publisher?

After all, the cover not only attracted us in a store, it probably sold the book to others who saw us reading it on public transit as well.

Some people don’t like reading ads on their Kindles…I wonder how they felt about being an ad with a paperbook?

Yes, some readers put p-books in slip covers. Some tried hard to obscure the cover. Some even put one book inside another one.

Now, none of that is necessary.

You can read a book without what is effectively an intimate relationship being exposed to others.

Naturally, I don’t have any objection to you sharing if you want to do that. People tweet the books they read, and post them on Facebook. The old opening like, “Read any good books lately?” still works.

Let me ask you, though: if you could have the title of the book you are reading displayed on the back of your Kindle (on the outside of a cover, if you use one) so other people could see what it was, would you do that?

Wouldn’t that feel like egotism?

What if you had an app that would broadcast the title you are reading on your Kindle Fire to other people around you? Maybe just to people in a certain group to which you belong?

Eventually, information about us will flow pretty freely, I think. We may wear “Google glasses”, or the equivalent, that do facial recognition. They’ll search the web for you, find a tagged picture of the person in the opposite seat on the subway, and tell you their name, and their likes and dislikes.

It’s going to be hard to avoid that…and if you do, it may make you seem strange and dangerous. You know how you can get weirded out when you see someone who always wears impenetrable dark glasses, or when a limo with tinted windows is parked near you? What if you looked at someone, and instead of the normal background information your “datacles” (I just made that up…data spectacles) gave you, you saw nothing about them? Would you hold your things a little tighter, and maybe move to another seat?

Bottom line…should strangers get to know what you are reading?

Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Thanks to my reader for the heads-up!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


22 Responses to “Should strangers get to know what you are reading?”

  1. jasonecox Says:

    Interesting post.

    I can see it both ways. And it may depend on exactly what one is reading.

    Personally, I remember purposefully selecting books to read on business flights or vacation as conversation starters (back when I was single). That might mean a book that was at the top of the charts or was getting “buzz.” Honestly, it usually worked. That doesn’t mean it was a substitutionary pick up line or anything of the sort. But books make GREAT conversation starters. That’s true if you’re reading for pleasure or for business as well.

    At other times, it’s probably something you do not want to call to attention, certainly. It’s one thing if you’re reading “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” or “Hunger Games.” Quite another thing if you’re reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” or even “Self-Esteem.” The book you’re reading certainly makes a statement about the reader (whether rightly or wrongly). That’s why they make great conversation starters in general. Probably the most effective one I ever read was called something like “How to talk to just about anybody.” People just couldn’t resist.

    It’s a useful thing if you’re traveling by yourself. Trips can be boring if there is no conversation. Often when people read, there is the implication of “p*ss off” or “don’t interrupt me.” With the Kindle, there is something of a regretful lack of even the opportunity for conversation, though. At least with a colorful book title, if you don’t want to be bugged you can use words to back up the “piss off” mindset and keep it brief. I’ve known people who can generate the same effect with a simple look and not waste a single word on it.

    Same thing goes for one of my previous replies where the topic was finding books in a bookstore. This is yet another social interaction (or potential one) that is made all the more difficult by the lack of a physical book’s presence.

    [Edited for language]

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, jasonecox!

      Oh, I have maneuvered my book so other people could read it. I think more unusually, I’ve carefully held books so the person who is trying to read over my should on public transit was able to do it more easily. 🙂

      However, I have also avoided reading some books at work (on breaks), where the subject matter might have a negative impact on other people. Just as I might not start a conversation at work on certain topics, I wouldn’t want to share the title of a book I’m reading on those topics. Not because I’m ashamed of it, but because it isn’t the place for it. People should be able to concentrate on work at work…

  2. Pam Says:

    Heck no! My Kindle Fire is how I read my Fifty Shades in peace! 🙂

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Pam!

      I understand that. 🙂 For me, it’s been less that sort of material, but more controversial ideas. That’s not to say that Fifty Shades (which I haven’t read) doesn’t have controversy because of its ideas…hm, that’s an interesting question in itself. Do people not want others seeing them reading Fifty Shades because they are concerned that people will think they share ideas with the people in the book, or because of what is specifically depicted?

  3. Tuli Reno Says:

    A very nice encounter happened to me on a subway in NYC. I was reading a book and a young man with knowledge of the subject asked me what I thought of it. We had a wonderful conversation and he left me saying it was the best conversation he had ever had on a train with anybody. I’m an elderly woman and I really enjoyed talking with a young person about that subject.

    Except for magazines, I read solely on my Kindle. I do get people asking me what I’m reading, but just as often get people denigrating e-readers.

    My subway experience was unique for me, so I really don’t miss people knowing what I’m reading. What I find nice is that if I want to read something risque or controversial, I can without disturbing the sensibilities of people around me.

    No one really needs to know what I’m reading. So, I’ll pass on the app or any other social media which might broadcast what I have on my Kindle or what I am currently reading. If I want someone to know, I’ll tell them.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tuli!

      As a sort of parallel, I had some great conversations with people in bookstores when we were looking at books in the same section. I don’t tend, though, to want to share which books I’ve read on social media with strangers.

  4. Connie Says:

    Whoa, Bufo, you just creeped me out! Datacles that tell me all about the people around me? No thanks. Whatever happened to mind your own business? Will our godless culture continue in that direction until fear totally rules our lives and we can only feel safe if everyone is monitored every moment? Eeuuw!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Connie!

      I do think that’s going to be an option…and it may be hard to avoid. I don’t have a Facebook page (well, I technically have one, but it’s completely stealth with nothing on it), and I know some people think I’m antisocial because of that. Not having a Facebook page could certainly keep you from getting hired for a job.

      New Millenials don’t seem to be particularly concerned about people knowing things that, say, Baby Boomers want to keep private. I think the societal trend is towards less privacy…

  5. Lexi Says:

    I’ll answer from Sheboygan. (which is what caught my eye first in this post)

    I wouldn’t display what I’m reading if it were an option. In the rare event I would read a book in public I’d usually place it cover down. I talk about books I’m reading with friends and family, but I wouldn’t want a stranger starting a conversation while I’m reading about that book, subject, or author. Just seems an invasion of “personal space” to me.

  6. cardinalrobbins Says:

    Actually, there is one site that I’m aware of that shares what you’ve read with your friends (and presumably others): It’s mostly a place where you can let others know about the books you have, what you’ve actually read, and you’re encouraged to review.

    I was surprised that I’d accidentally linked my Goodreads page to my Facebook page, but everything is so interlinked on social media right now, it works to my advantage in many ways.

    Most of the time, I wouldn’t mind people knowing what I’m reading on my Kindle Touch. I was never one to hide what I was reading when I carried paperbooks, either. I’ve always enjoyed it when someone showed an interest in what I’m reading, as I tend to read a lot of things most people would consider offbeat — often because I’m doing research for my writing. (Lately, it’s been a lot of research on Chernobyl and other nuclear disasters, as well as guidelines on medicine related to radiation exposure.)

    A lot depends upon the mood I’m in, however. Some topics lend themselves to more conversation than others. When I’m deep into trying to understand the transition some elements make in their decay cycle, it’s not a good time to ask me if I’m reading “Fifty Shades of Schlock.”

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, cardinalrobbins!

      Oh, you can share what books you’ve read through Amazon, if you want. You can also do it through Shelfari (which Amazon now owns).

      Again, I think it’s fine that people choose to share…it’s when it’s involuntary that it gets interesting for me.

  7. bec Says:

    I’m an ER nurse and have broken the ice with many folks talking about their books and their kindles as well. It’s nice to have something to talk about in the ER other than health issues, obviously, only when appropriate.

    If the folks have a physical book and the cover looks interesting, I’ll ask them about what they are reading, if they like it and questions like that. If it’s a Mitch Rapp book, I’ll ask them if they know of the Reacher or Wells series. If it’s a Patterson book, I’ll ask how on earth he writes a book every other week.

    Two shifts ago, the last conversation I had was about a Reacher book. This teenage kid was reading it or had just finished it. I commented on how I love the Reacher series, have read every book. By the end of their stay, the mom said, “I started reading this. You’re right, it’s quite enjoyable.”

    Part of the joy of reading is that it is a solitary thing. But, turning folks on to reading more, well, that can make my soul sing.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, bec!

      Thank you also for doing the job you do! Being an ER nurse requires quite a combination of skills, and social skills are part of the mix.

      I also love encouraging people to read something…I used to buy multiple copies of some paperbooks, so I could easily give one away to someone I knew. I think that’s different from strangers seeing what you are reading, though. The level of connection between strangers in an ER is different from that on a bus, or in a restaurant.

  8. Bailey Says:

    Well, I’m kind of glad that strangers can’t tell what I’m reading. For some reason, I’ve always hated talking about the books I’m reading, even with people I know, beyond “I liked it”, or “I didn’t like it.” Books are very personal to me, and I don’t want another person’s opinions tainting my view of the book.
    Plus the kindle fire would be perfect for my embarrassed-to-be-seen-in-public books: picture books 🙂

    Yes, as in the kind mention for 5-year-olds. I still love them, but wouldn’t want to be seen with them, as I have no one I could possibly be reading them to.

    So kindles, for me, are a great thing.

  9. Karin Says:

    Just as an earlier poster mentioned, is great for sharing books with others (but I have to admit, I don’t ask anyone to be my friend). I like goodreads for the reviews. I think reading is somewhat private. I don’t mind sharing if is a great book. I only have 2 friends that share my account with me who I completely trust to not snicker at what I am reading (or judge me because of the books in my library). But I will let all kinds of people borrow my Kindles, as long as they can’t figure out how to see the archives.
    Having said that, I love know what other people are reading.

  10. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I found the article containing this quote to be interesting because the author was in search of what might be left of the literary heritage of NYC. I don’t think I’d want my Kindle to announce to the outside world what I’m reading, but then, I’ve never been much of a public reader. I lack the ability to block out distractions and find it very difficult to concentrate while reading in public. Sometimes I do take my Kindle to keep me occupied while waiting for an appointment, but I usually just play a fairly mindless game on it while waiting.

    I do notice that Amazon gives me the option to “Tweet” or announce on Facebook when I finish a book, but since I’m not in either of those “social networks,” I just ignore the opportunity.

  11. Miriam Joy Says:

    I love the word ‘datacles’. It’s brilliant, though it gives me an impression of ‘tentacles’. The actual idea of people being able to google me just from looking is a little frightening, but I’d make sure to wear something odd to catch their attention and ensure that that image was associated with my blog and my books … and then walk around as an advert for my writing! It seems like a good way of doing it. After all, if you’re dressed oddly they’re more likely to google you… but I digress.

    Personally, I’m often fairly pretentious with books — if I’m reading something highbrow I’ll make sure it’s paper 😉 So then people think I’m intelligent! But at the same time, it’s nice not to be judged for reading obscure Norse mythology on a bus. It also means my parents aren’t continually aware of what I’m reading (as I have a habit of leaving books around the house).

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Miriam!

      I think some people may have connotative parallels with “tentacles” and what these devices will do. You can picture an octopus reaching out in eight directions to gather informatin.

      What you suggest as marketing could absolutely work. The trick might be to design a logo to wear so people’s datacles identify it, bringing up your web presence. If other people copied the logo to wear (but you protected it for web use), that would simply help you. 🙂

      I don’t think my judgement of someone reading Norse mythology would be a negative…but it might be for some folks. 🙂

      • Miriam Joy Says:

        I think it depends whether the display showed which section of mythology you were on. The Lokasenna is fairly harmless but some other parts are a little more dubious.

  12. BookScout app introduced…by traditional publisher « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] to say, I know. For many people, books (certainly some books) are an intimate, private thing. I recently wrote about whether or not it was good that strangers can’t see what you are reading when you are using […]

  13. Gglasshole! The pushback against Google GLASS has begun | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] did call them “datacles” (data spectacles) in this earlier post, although I wasn’t limiting them to Google’s […]

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