I’m pretty sane and normal when it comes to being out in public places. I’m sure you’re all relieved that I’ve taken the time to reassure you of this fact. I putter through stores, I make obnoxious jokes about terrible ads, I stare at people and imagine what they’re up to and what their lives are like. I chase my children, because bringing them somewhere is like letting rabid weasels loose for fun. It’s all fine…
…until I spot someone reading in public. And then I go all fixated and creepy.
I don’t mean to. It’s just that it drives me completely insane if I can’t see what you’re reading. I don’t have to like the book, or have read it, or anything like that. You could be reading my favorite book in the world and I still wouldn’t approach you in public to talk about it. I just need to see the title, and the bit that drives me insane is that I frequently can’t see it.
There are lots of reasons why this is a problem. Sometimes, insensitive people hold their books at angles which are “comfortable,” to them, rather than “visible” to me, because they are terrible people. Sometimes, to compound that problem, they take the dust jacket off the hardcover and now I can’t tell anything. It’s gotten worse the past few years, too. Now people are reading books on Kindles and iPads and their ilk, and that’s impossible. I don’t even have a badly-angled cover to work with.
I’ll put some real work into figuring it out, too. As an example: yesterday, I ate at a buffet style restaurant near where I live. A woman sitting by herself at a table in the middle of the restaurant had an iPad mini, propped up on her purse, so she could read while she ate. I kept passing by. The text size was huge, but of course the title of the book is quite tiny and faint, at the top of the page. So I kept reading whole pages of the novel as I walked by.
I couldn’t recognize it just by reading the novel as I passed, so I began trying to pick out details. Black-lacquered boots were mentioned. Well, that could be anything of certain eras. The name Lao-Liu was on a page, but googling that, back at my own table, did nothing. A common enough Chinese name. Finally, seconds before I was done eating and ready to go, I spotted the name Judge Dee. Now we were getting somewhere. Googling Judge Dee, I found the list of Judge Dee detective novels, and realized the one she was reading was called Poets And Murder.
If this sounds obsessive…well…I suppose it is. It’s also kind of fun. Like a bibliographic Sherlock Holmes. That’s what I tell myself so that I don’t feel like a creep. I like to imagine I’m not the only person who does this. I can’t be. I suppose I might get a little more investigative about it than some other people do, but that’s okay. I can be the world’s first consulting biblio-detective.
And that is why I walked past you twice, lady in the dollar store holding a cheap hardcover book who noticed me staring and asked my wife what I was doing and why I was being such a creep, after I had nipped off down a book aisle to find a copy of what you were holding and I found out about it later and was utterly embarrassed and apologized to you when our paths crossed in the parking lot and you laughed at me.
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