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5 Tips to Reading Safely In Public

July 30, 2015
You're better off doing this in the safety of your own home. (image via wikimedia)

You’re better off doing this in the safety of your own home. (image via wikimedia)

Reading in public can be dangerous.  Somebody can sneak up behind you and conk you on the head while you’re distracted.  You can get plowed into by walkers, runners, bicyclists, or even cars.  If you’re reading a James Patterson novel in public, a crazy bald guy might start ranting in your face about how you’re feeding into a scam.

If that was you reading the James Patterson book in the airport over the weekend, I apologize for my bad behavior.

With new technology (well, to a guy my age, it’s relatively new), it’s easier than ever to read in public.  We don’t have to lug books around anymore.  We can carry our libraries on our phone.  We might be reading texts or social media, but it’s still reading.  We might even be tempted to write in public.  But doing so can be risky, so if we’re determined to read (and write) in public, let’s make sure to follow these basic rules and do it safely.

1. Be stationary.

Sit or stand when you’re reading.  This might sound like I’m lecturing, but it’s more than a safety issue.  The world loves seeing pedestrians stumble in public, and if you trip over while reading, somebody else with a smart phone will capture it and put it on the internet for the world to mock you.  Plus, the person who takes the video gets the hits and the glory.  The reader/stumbler gets the mockery.  If I’m ever involved with a viral video of a guy stumbling in public, I want to be the one taking/posting the video, not the guy falling down.

So whenever I read in public, I sit or I stand still.

2. Put your back up against a wall or obstacle.

When we’re reading, we don’t pay attention to our surroundings, and that’s when we readers can get conked on the head.  I’ve been conked on the head before.  It hurts.  I don’t want to get conked on the head ever again.  Even if getting conked didn’t hurt, it might still knock you out and all your stuff can get stolen, including the book/tablet you’re reading.

To be fair, I wasn’t reading when I got conked on the head, but reading in public with my back vulnerable greatly increases the likelihood of getting conked on the head.

3.  Look up a lot.

No matter how caught up you are in your book (or whatever you’re reading), be aware of your surroundings.  You might be in your own little utopia while you’re on reading, but in the meantime you are still surrounded by a very dangerous world filled with creeps who prey upon the oblivious.  If these creeps know that you’re looking up frequently, they’re less likely to sneak up on you.  True, the creep will probably just find another reader lost in oblivion, but you’re still making the creep work harder by looking up.

4. Keep an angry expression on your face.

I don’t like people talking to me while I’m reading, so if I look mad, people are less likely to approach me.  Plus, I’m less likely to get conked on the head if the potential predator thinks I’m in a fighting mood.  If you’re reading a humorous book, laugh really loudly so everybody around you thinks that you’re nuts.  Maybe curse a little bit too, just for the heck of it. Predators like easy victims.  They’ll pass over a guy or girl who looks angry/crazy when reading, and they’ll search for easier prey.

5.  Don’t read in the car.

You should never read in the car, not even at red lights.  Put that book or phone away while you’re driving.  Your brain needs a moment to adjust when you go from reading mode to driving mode.  It’s too easy to accelerate before your brain has had a chance to process what’s in front of you if you’ve been reading at a red light.  When you’re in your car, you are moments away from an injury at any given second.  Don’t be the cause of your own accident.


Before technology existed, I used to be self-conscious about reading books in public.  I didn’t mind strangers seeing me read a book in public (like a restaurant or movie theater), but there was always a chance of running into somebody I knew.  Getting caught reading a book in public was an admission of being anti-social.  It was like admitting you didn’t have friends.  It was like admitting nobody liked you.  It was like admitting you hid from your personal problems behind the pages of a book (which is better than some other vices people use to hide from their problems).

Today, if I’m reading, nobody can tell I’m reading a book.  From an outsider’s point of view, I could be checking messages or social media.  I can appear to be a popular guy while I’m actually remaining my anti-social self.  With phones and tablets, all social stigmas of reading in public have disappeared.  But I still don’t want to get conked on the head.


What tips do you have for reading safely in public?  Have you ever been conked on the head?  Has anybody ever started a conversation with you about what you’re reading in public?

  1. Julia Molloy permalink

    Nice post! I love reading but I hate reading in public. You never know when someone is reading over your shoulder!

  2. Yes, very enjoyable post, albeit I’m sitting at my desk.

  3. That shit about not reading at red lights is true. It seems like a slightly stupid idea, but when you do it, you find out it’s a very stupid idea.

    • I hate admitting this, but I’ve read texts (not books) at stop signs and red lights. Luckily, I learned my lesson without property damage or anybody getting hurt.

      • I have never read any of a book at a stop sign. At stoplights, the main problem is not that I might not know when the light has turned green. Someone will simply honk at me. The problem is that for the first several seconds my mind is still engaged with the story, not with driving.

        I’ve sworn it off as a bad habit. (This is also why I don’t listen to audio books while driving.)

        As for walking while reading, I think it’s fine, with two addendums. First, one should not read while walking along streets without sidewalks. If one is simply walking along the shoulder, it’s too easy to wander into the street without realizing it. With a sidewalk, stepping off the edge into the gutter always brings one to attention.

        Second, one should not read while crossing the street, even if you have a walk signal. It is not only bad policy, but also rude. Consider especially intersections where cars have the choice of going straight or turning left, but, if turning left, must yield to cars coming from the opposite direction. If you are reading while crossing, you are likely walking slowly, making it more difficult for a aspiring left-turner to find a space. Also, while reading, it is easy to wander out of the crosswalk without realizing it.

        • You wrote some good advice. If I absolutely had to read and walk at the same time, I’d use your techniques, but I’m at the age when it’s a little risky for me to try it.

  4. I would add that if you are reading in a place that relies on business to survive, but something, and if you’re going to be there for more than an hour, buy something more than just the $1.23 teeny tiny coffee. Get a cookie, too, you cheap-skate.

    If you are one of those folks who reads textbooks in public, realize that though your textbooks + backpack + laptop + coffee + packed lunch you’ve snuck in don’t deserve multiple tables. You are still one being reading, so be cool and use one table, saving space for the super fly patrons.

    • *buy* something, not but something.

    • Wow, I need to proofread. Take out “though” in the second paragraph for the sentence to make sense. 🙂

    • I hadn’t thought about etiquette for reading at a cafe or coffee house. That’s an important topic in itself and could lead to safety hazards too if certain rules aren’t followed.

      You’re absolutely right. Stacking books would be more considerate than spreading them out all over the place.

  5. I would add ‘Don’t talk back to the characters in the book you’re reading’, as I find myself doing. 🙂

    • I kind of agree. If you’re around friends and acquaintances or co-workers, don’t talk back to characters.

      But if you’re surrounded by strangers in public, you SHOULD talk back to the characters, and do it with lots of passion so that everybody thinks you’re crazy and they’ll leave you alone. Then you probably won’t get conked on the head (unless they’re just trying to get you to be quiet).

  6. I liked your post, funny but true! I don’t mind being seen as anti social, I’m more paranoid about what people will think of the book I’m reading if they see the cover. Glad I have my e-reader for such occasions.

  7. nrtupper permalink

    Don’t read in the car! HAHA. Too cute.

  8. People read while they are driving?!!!!

  9. I read while I’m driving all the time. Audiobooks.

    • Some people would say audiobooks are a form of cheating, but I have no opinion about that, especially if the audio helps you to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.

  10. Oh crap, I’m reading this post on my phone in my car. But since I’m not driving, and the doors are locked, there’s very little danger of being conked on the head.

  11. purplefolder permalink

    It’s a jolly good post 🙂 And owing to all these inconveniences I have totally given up reading in public.

  12. “Keep an angry expression on your face.” Done:) Cool advice.

    • Thanks. If I don’t keep an angry expression on my face, I get approached by strangers. I’m the guy who gets asked directions or gets asked to take a picture of a group (neither of which I mind helping with), but I also get asked for money or get conked on the head, so I need to be safe.

  13. I saw a trucker reading a romance novel once while he passed me on the highway, I think he could use these helpful hints!

  14. Nice post and good advice, but there is absolutely no shame in reading in public. I do it all the time and prefer print over technology. Just me getting lost in the story. Who cares what others think. If people sneak up to you and conk you in the head while reading, you could conk them back with a bit of knowledge. They won’t know what hit ’em.

    • “Who cares what others think?”-

      Logically, I know you’re right, but I was lit-shamed at an early age, so I still care more than I should about what others think.

  15. I may or may not have been stuck in a gridlock today (turned out there was an accident about a half mile ahead) and after people started turning off their cars I turned mine off too and started reading a new book! No shame.

  16. I always panic if I get a bit too engrossed in a story on a bus or train, in case I’ve missed my stop. I feel a bit awkward if I’m sat on my own in a restaurant or coffee shop, so I like to have my kindle with me for that.

  17. This does actually remind me of a time I was on a train, and the woman next to me was reading a book on The Beatles, and she kept making dramatic gasps and muttering to herself.

  18. Nycke the Poet permalink

    Wait does reading really mean you’re antisocial? LMAO, that scares me…I can’t help myself though when I read I embody the book. I’m sure people wonder if I’m crazy when I literally laugh out loud. At times I sit and giggle or have a silly smile. I can say that I try to limit my public reading, accept when in the library but the I usually get put out because I laugh so loud at times.

  19. DustySpider permalink

    Loved this. I especially related to #4. So true. 🙂

  20. I love your post and I think it is very true. I also think you need to be picky about the environment you choose to read in in public. I’ve loved to read all of my life and have never had the problem with reading out in public. I do think your tips help because I never thought about the way reading can affect driving.

  21. TobyRenman permalink

    My expansion on tip #4 — while an angry expression might be useful to fend off inquisitive people (a simply intense expression works fine for me, though), you might as well plug earphones into your ears (not necessarily with music on) and create an extra layer of defense.

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