Small talk

I’ve mentioned before here that I like to read while walking around my suburb – actually, while walking round whatever suburb, or urbs, I happen to be in. One of the incidental pleasures of this practice is the micro-conversations it engenders.

The most common opening gambit is, ‘Must be a good book.’ Sometimes there’s an edge of reprimand in this, as in, ‘It would have to be a bloody good book to make me – or any normal person – read it like that.’ Other times, it’s quite benign: if Bob Thiele and George Weiss were right that friends shaking hands saying, ‘How do you do,’ are really saying ‘I love you,’ then people making this comment are really saying, ‘I notice you’re doing something unusual/making the environment slightly more interesting.’

The other common remark, though it trails a long way behind the first, is, ‘Careful you don’t walk into a post/tree/branch.’

I try to respond with something friendly and amusing, an equivalent of ‘Thank you for commenting’. My fallback is something like, ‘Have to get the reading done some time.’

A very few people scope out the book as we approach each other and make a book-specific comment: ‘Is that any good? I’ve had it beside my bed for a while.’  ‘Has he done that well?’ ‘You must be an academic, reading Heat.’

Yesterday, a friend coming up Booth Street laughed when she saw me, and said, by way of explaining her laughter: ‘You look so ancient. So untechnological.’ I had no comeback.

3 responses to “Small talk

  1. I frequently walk around work with my nose in a book, desperately trying to cram in some reading in between things. People tend not to comment on that, beyond a kind of understated double-take, but the thing that actually drives me nuts is that, every time I am in the kitchen making my lunch, SOMEONE has to comment. Ooh, that’s healthy! Oh, how delicious! It’s sandwich/salad, people. Get over it. (I have no idea why this need to comment on my lunch irritates the heck out of me, but it does. Call me a curmudgeon.)


  2. Hmm. I appear to have left a comment on this post as someone called ‘Misrule’.
    This is the very thing that happens to me. Every day.
    Fortunately, I have trained (almost) everyone at my work not to speak or make eye contact while I eat in the lunchroom because That’s When I Read My Book. The part-time woman who knows that I don’t talk when I eat my lunch and read, for some reason has decided that this actually means she that SHE must do the conversing for both of us.
    DEFCON -1 was non-commital, non-interested grunting through mouthfuls of pasta with nose hidden from view. The kind of abruptness that only blokes can really get away with.
    DEFCON -2 was going to be a brief chat. “Can this wait until after I’ve finished lunch?”
    DEFCON -3 was going to be a small paper notice folded over the front of the book cover (you could try this too, Jono): “Do Not Disturb”. Like the informative stickers on those long-haul trucks about not seeing mirrors.
    “If you can see the book open, I can’t see you!”


  3. A lunchroom? Such luxury. I eat at a table in my office as there is nowhere pleasant nearby. There are no people I want to spend time with near my workspace, and no lunchroom or shared space either. There is no-one to comment on the healthiness or otherwise of my sandwich, or the title of my book, or the quality of the few rows of knitting I sometimes manage to squeeze in while I read.

    I like being solitary, but I also yearn for companionship at work sometimes. I didn’t mean this to sound like a whinge; I hadn’t realised how important this was becoming to me. Hmmm.


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