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.