Readwalking: A Reader in Motion

This is a guest post from Ilana Masad. Ilana is a queer, Israeli-American fiction writer and book critic. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Joyland Magazine, Tin House, and more. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories, a podcast featuring new, emerging, and struggling fiction writers. Follow her on Twitter @ilanaslightly.


Reading in motion is nothing new or surprising. Many of us read while moving. The most common place is probably public transportation – subways, trains, buses, unicorns, however it is we get to work or wherever we’re going. But reading while walking still gets me stared at more often than not.

Not only stared at, but talked to. People seem to think that reading while I walk is an invitation to converse with me. They ask me how the book is. They ask me whether I really like it. They ask me what chapter I’m on (in the tone of voice that makes me know they haven’t even looked at the cover and haven’t read the book and have no idea whether it has chapters or not). They also tell me to be careful. Constantly, I’m told to look where I’m going, to watch out, to be careful. The most annoying of them – often teenage boys (I know, I know, #NotAllTeenageBoys) – will yell right by my ear as they cycle by to scare me or will tell me I’m about to crash when I’m not, just to see the look on my face when I’m startled out of concentration.

It’s weird – you’d think that having your face in a book would be a pretty clear indication that you don’t want to be talked to.

Why do I read while I walk? Several reasons, the first of which is pretty obvious: time. So many books, so little time, right? I take this fact particularly seriously. In my best year, I read 144 books. If I could read that many books a year until I died, I will still have only read a few thousand – and I usually don’t read that many books a year (unfortunately). It doesn’t seem like enough.

Second, as an introvert, the outside world can sometimes overwhelm me. As a writer, it is essential to me, as people-watching is essential to so many writers, but as a young adult who really just loves sitting curled up and reading? It can get to be a bit much. Somehow, though, the world of words is never too much to handle, so reading while walking helps me siphon off the real world and concentrate on the fictional one clutched in my hands.

Finally, and here is where I recommend proceeding with caution, especially if you know your peripheral vision isn’t great, reading while walking is its own unique experience. The feel of earth moving under you, the sight of landscapes passing by as the words flow in front of you, the sounds of everything from car horns to birdsong, all while you’re reading about people having entirely different experiences – it’s all remarkably thrilling. There’s a duality to the adventure of it, a way my mind fills up with enough stimulation to make me feel as if I could walk forever, if only I can have a book in my hand.

So next time you see someone walking down the street with their nose in a book, don’t talk to them. Let them read on and enjoy the experience, and, if you like, take a page out of their book (but not literally–that would be even more distracting than talking to them) and try it too.

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