Monday, January 10, 2011

Seen Reading Something

Julie Wilson has brought back regular updates to the popular "Seen Reading" website.

This is where Julie or one of her tribe sees a person reading, makes a note of the book as well as what page of the book the person is on, then heads to a local bookstore to make a note of the text and reports it all on her Seen Reading website.

Image clipped from Seen Reading website via Dear Toronto #33 (video)

It's all about celebrating reading and all the glorious elements that are part of it.

I think it is a brilliant way to get people excited about books and reading.  In Julie's words:  "Readers are cool. Authors work hard. Publishers take chances. And you all deserve to be seen!"

What I'm really curious about (and perhaps a tiny bit worried about), is, with the advent of eReaders now more popular than ever, will it be harder for "Seen Reading" sightings? I mean, it's one thing if I'm sitting on the GO train and reading a paperback or hardcover that the person across from me can easily see. It's quite another if I'm reading it on my ereader device (in my case, my iPhone)

For one, the person can't easily tell what book I'm reading.  For that matter they might think I'm just checking email or perhaps watching a movie or one of several other dozen activities that can have a person staring transfixed at their mobile device.

To me, the "Seen Reading" part of book culture is fascinating. Given that I usually have more than one book on the go, I've occasionally made a conscious choice as to which book to take with me when I know I'll be reading it in public.

C'mon, admit it yourself. You sometimes decide that it's acceptable for people to see you reading BOOK X because it'll make you look smart or savy -- but you wouldn't want people to see you reading BOOK Y because it's either one of those "guilty pleasures" or might reflect badly on you. (IE, perhaps reading a book called "How To Get Rid of Your Herpes" on the subway as embarassing whereas "Remembrance of Things Past" by Marcel Proust might elevate someone's opinion of you)

From my own experience, when I was reading The Need To Kill: Inside the World of the Serial Killer by Steven A. Egger a few years ago (which is a fascinating look at serial killers and psychopathy, useful fruit for someone who writes horror fiction and needs to get into the head of some really sick people in order to create believable characters) I often wondered what people might think about me.  Interesting, isn't it, that I feel the need to explain why I was reading such a book -- that it was for research and not because I'm a sicko who gets off reading about murder. Imagine how many people sitting across from me quietly slipped away once another seat became available when they saw the title "The Need to Kill."

In any case, I'm curious to see how the anonymity of eReaders might affect the way people are "Seen Reading" -- will dedicated eReader devices allow users to add customizable "skins" that show their default prefered reading tastes (perhaps similar to iPhone and iPad skins)? Will there be an "out-facing" logo on the back of future dedicated eReading devices showing the front cover of the book a person is currently reading?

Or will we simply lose a small part of that wonderful experience us book-nerds have of taking that second look at the person across the aisle from us on the subway just to check out what book they're reading?


Julie Wilson said...

Hey Mark!

Thanks for this post. Some people have wondered why bring back the project now as ereaders become more common in the public sphere. Certainly, there's pride and nostalgia. (And no shortage of sightings, as it is.) Perhaps though I'll note some of the missed sightings from time to time as well. The fictional reader will still be present through my response, so the sighting of someone reading, if not what, would still fall within the constraints of the project.

But what I really wanted to say is that if this project (and blogs) existed in the 70s or 80s, I'd probably have just as much difficulty figuring out the title of some books for all the hand-fashioned book covers that were once the rage! Pri-tee.

Mark Leslie said...

Interesting point about the "pri-tee" hand-crafted covers, Julie. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

And I'm glad to see you're keeping that particular project going - I've always got my eyes on the books people are reading in public, which is one of the reasons I love to follo "Seen Reading"