Friday, May 22, 2009

I'm sorry. Were you speaking to me?

By Lonnie Cruse

Recently I was standing in the lobby of a local hospital, waiting for hubby to catch up after he thoughtfully dropped me off at the door before searching for a parking spot. We were on our way to sit with friends while a member of their family had delicate open heart surgery. Thankfully the surgery went well. Back to the point of this post.

As I stood there, I glanced around and noticed two people on a nearby couch in a public waiting area. One was chatting non-stop, the other was reading a large trade paperback book, with another small spiral bound resting on the lap. Possibly a notebook to make notes in? Whatever, this was one serious reader who kept a finger on the line read so as not to lose place when the chatterer managed to drag the reader's attention away from the book. Which didn't happen all that often.

It occured to me that the chatterer was courting serious injury with the constant flow of interruption, and possibly it occured to the chatterer too, as the chatter finally ground to a halt due to, one presumes, lack of response on the part of the reader. I was dying to know what the reader was reading, but I know better than to interrupt a serious reader. Particularly a serious reader already busy ignoring a constant chatterer.

Yes, I had a paperback tucked in my purse at that moment, Tamar Myers' PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY, AND CRIME, and no, I didn't start reading it as soon as we located our friends in the waiting room. I commisserated with them for the better part of three hours before I slid the book surepticiously out of my bag and slunk down into my chair to read. Having said all they had to say, our friends left me in peace. Lucky for them.

I try to be polite and not read in company, but IF I'm reading in my very own house or in the car and hubby begins a conversation, my first thought is (a) can't he see that I'm reading, followed closely by (b) this had better be important, if not downright urgent.

How about you? How dedicated a reader are you, particularly in public? Can you shut out the rest of the noise? Can you ignore someone trying to talk to you, who, let's face it, really should have learned better manners? Do you lose track of your place? Do you put the book away, force a fake smile on your face, and act like you really care, all the while (if you are a writer as well as a reader) plotting how you can kill this person off in your next book?

And by the way, in case you were wondering, the chatterer AND the reader were both male. Still, that's no excuse, is it?


Sheila Connolly said...

In my family (of three) we have an unspoken agreement: do not interrupt a reader. I think Nora Roberts once said, if it's not bleeding or on fire, don't bother me. She may have been referring to writing, but it works just as well for reading. It is such a fragile, wonderful bond when you are completely caught up in a story, that it's a sin to shatter it.

I used to be able to walk to school and back while reading. It's a wonder I didn't fall and break something, but I survived (it was a very suburban neighborhood).

Lonnie Cruse said...

I LOVE the idea of walking somewhere and reading, but I *would* fall down. Thanks for stopping by, Sheila.

Anonymous said...

This may sound very rude, but it is what my teenagers do. And, since they are READING, I tend to look the other way. They do this almost anywhere, in the car, airports, in malls, among friends, and basically anywhere they don't want to be disturbed when reading OR to have to deal with non-stop chatter. Here's what they do: put on your sunglasses (this should be done even in buildings or on cloudy days), put your Ipod earphones in your ears and begin reading. If someone tries to interrupt...even if you see and/or hear them...simply point to your earphones as an indication that the volume is really loud and then continue to read OR, and here's where the sunglasses come in, just ignore the person since you don't have to make eye contact. I have been tempted to try it!
Mary Beth

Sandra Parshall said...

In a hospital waiting area, you're going to find a lot of anxious people who *need* to talk, so I'm inclined to give the chatterer a pass and wonder why the reader couldn't be a little more considerate. Lonnie, I'm sure you didn't bury your nose in a book while sitting with your friend's worried family members.

I have trouble reading a book in public places. Too many distractions, and I can't enjoy the book. Magazines, however, are ideal reading material in waiting rooms, and I take the opportunity to look at magazines I don't normally see. I catch up on all the stars' latest romances, breakups, weight gains and weight losses while I'm waiting to see a doctor or the dentist. And interruptions don't bother me.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

My husband is primarily a nonfiction reader (usually several books at once), and he has an unfortunate habit of interrupting my reading (usually a mystery) to read aloud or report on some interesting tidbit from his book. This drives me crazy! However, on the rare occasions when he's got his nose in a novel, he too dislikes being interrupted. It just goes to show that fiction is more gripping than nonfiction. :)

Janice Campbell said...

Interrupting a reader is the eighth deadly sin. I got in more trouble as a child for "ignoring" my mother, when I simply didn't hear the irrelevant noise in the distance! I walked back and forth from school and between classes in crowded hallways with a book under my nose, and even read while eating with friends. Dreadful, perhaps, but I needed to know what happened next!

I can still read anywhere, and through almost anything. My husband and sons know that if I'm reading, they need to actually get my attention before speaking, or I won't hear a thing. It's a whole 'nother world between the covers of a book!

Lonnie Cruse said...

Hehehe! I love this! Thanks for sharing, everyone.

Librarian D.O.A. said...

It has taken me nearly a quarter of a century to train my husband not to talk to me when I'm reading, but now and then he feels he must interrupt. My son is not trained, though nearly 21. Someone else in his life will have to take over. :)

I can read in any public place, I just block everything out and concentrate on the world in the book. I see and hear nothing. I am truly transported.

Noone anyplace dares disturb me when I'm at the last 50 pages of a book. Severe looks warn them off.

Literary Feline said...

The worst is when you are nearly finished with the book when you are interrupted. At home, it's always my husband or the dog that chooses that moment to interrupt my reading. I grumble inwardly, sometimes even out loud at the disruption.

I do try to be polite and not read when in the company of others. I was at a family event a few months ago and the conversation was very dull, really having nothing to do with me. I was there out of obligation more so than because I wanted to be. How much I envied my husband who had no qualms about pulling out his book and disappearing into a corner to read! It was my side of the family though, and I figured it would be too rude if I snuck away. I was so relieved when my father announced a smoke break (I don't smoke myself--but at least I had an excuse to get away) and my husband, dad, and I all sat on an out of the way bench for 15 minutes, each of us reading our own books.

Marilynne said...

I try not to read if someone wants to talk to me, but if I'm in the final thrilling pages of a good book I can't help myself.

What I really hate is when the person talking to me is chattering nonstop about nothing at all.

So, I guess you'd say I'm rude - some times.

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