Reading While Walking

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

More and more of us are doing this. The morning latte line is a shuffle of surreptitious readers. People move forward, occasionally jostling each other, eyes glued to texts in their smart phones. “Sorry,” someone said. “I’m reading Moby-Dick.” I wanted to say, “Buddy, if you’re reading in sips in the six or so lines your smart phone can show at a time, it’s going to take you a dog’s age.” Instead I said, “Wow.” One must applaud determination.

More than once in the supermarket I have tried simultaneously to navigate my cart through the produce aisle and read The New York Times’ most-emailed list. Who among us hasn’t? I harken back. When was the last time I read a book, read anything, not on my way to doing something or in fact, doing something else? When was the last time reading was a unitask?

I used to read this way as a child. I used to take a book into an afternoon and devour it, and feel full afterwards. That was thirty years ago, this is now. My reading habit has become more of a nibbling. Tapas. I put my wrist to my forehead as if I need smelling salts. There are so many distractions! Work! Kids! Our fast-paced 24-7 culture! It would really buck the dominant paradigm to be seen reading during daylight hours among adults.

We perceive it now as a leisure, almost lazy, but to what better outcome could our time be spent than the quiet expansion of our vocabulary and outlook? We should be proud to give reading its own space and time as a complex and edifying pursuit. When someone asks, “What are your doing?” insinuating that I’m doing nothing, I’m going to say, “Peacefully reading. You?”