Years ago - at least seven or eight - I went through a period of regular hospital treatment for what I prefer to call a condition rather than an illness. Nothing that would ever kill me, but it caused me some discomfort. All dealt with now, leaving only a few minor scars.
This required three hospital appointments every week for months, for which I, in my time-related paranoia, was invariably early by at least half an hour. So I would sit in the hospital's reception area with a book. A 'real' book, this being years before Kindles became ubiquitous. Martin Chuzzlewit will forever remind me of hospital waiting rooms for this very reason.
Not a week went by without some passerby, fellow patient, even one of the hospital cleaners who should have been fucking cleaning interrupting me with one of the following:
- "Is that a good book?" To which I have now taken to replying, "I don't know; I can't get peace to read it."
- "There's a film out soon. Why don't you watch that instead of wasting your time reading?"
- "Oh, I read a book once." Fancy.
- "Is that the book where [character's name] dies in the end?"
- "I've read that book. Didn't think much of it." Really. And you just had to interrupt me to tell me that, huh?
- "I'm not much of a reader." And I'm not much of a cunt, which is why I didn't interrupt whatever you were doing.
- "Have you read The Da Vinci Code?" Yes, and my IQ dropped 50 points as a consequence. [Nowadays that glorification of rape and domestic abuse, 50 Shades of Grey, is the likely title to be used here.]
"But you don't know what I was going to suggest."
I give the other person that look and say, "Trust me; as a long-term sufferer, that is, over thirty years, whatever you're about to suggest, I've tried it."
I get the literary equivalent a lot these days. "Have you read-?"
"You don't know what book I was about to name."
"Trust me; I've been able to read since the age of two. Whatever book you were about to name, I've read it."
Now, I'm not saying I've read every book in the world. Far from it. But I've read a good few thousand over the years, and I'm always, to a man, better-read than the people who think they're helping by making suggestions. That's not as arrogant as it may sound, and let me explain why: only someone who is not a bookworm would think it's a good idea to interrupt when I'm reading in public.
It seems to me that people who interrupt readers don't understand how much we enjoy reading. Alone. Quietly. And if they don't understand how much we enjoy reading - ALONE - they likely don't appreciate a good book themselves. And that, in turn, leads me to conclude they read about one book a year, if that, and then only the latest hyped-up piece of shit. Fifty Shades of Grey being a case in point.
I have been told on a number of occasions that I'm rude for not doing the donkey work of carrying a conversation someone else has foisted on me. Don't think I never speak to people; I do. But however rude you think a person sitting on their own on a bus, reading, is? Your interruption is ten times more unacceptable to me.
I never go anywhere without my Kindle or a paperback that fits into my handbag, and I can't get from my front door to the bus stop without someone commenting on the simple fact that I can read.
And not only do I have the ability to read, but I choose to exercise that ability. Yes, I choose to. Reading is not a chore to me; it's a pleasure. Indeed, it's a lifeline. A Godsend.
It's more than a little irritating to be walking along the road reading - yes, I can walk and read at the same time - and be stopped by a man, for it is usually a man, and asked, "Is that a good book?" or to be the target of a slightly irritated "What are you reading now?" as if my love of the written word is an inconvenience the people around me must deal with.
Now, back to this morning's incident. I had an appointment which required me to leave the house quite early. Blech. Anyway, I was walking across a bridge and saw a dog-walker heading in my direction. My heart sank. I am not a fan of dogs. Or people. So I did my usual thing of rendering myself invisible - or so I thought - by burying myself in a recently-acquired print copy of The Great Gatsby.
No such luck. And it wasn't the dog that bothered me, as I had feared. It was his (male) owner. I make the point that he was male because whenever a woman has interrupted my reading, it's been to say "Oh, I liked that book," or something similar, before moving on. Women don't tend to block my path, or carry on talking after I've made my lack of interest in conversation clear, or stand too damn close to my personal space for comfort.
And yes, yes, yes, as I was told on Twitter this morning, "Men get interrupted too," but I guess their position of male privilege makes their first thoughts not of possible escape routes to avoid rape, but of simple, petty inconvenience. Men are generally larger-built than women and a quick "Hmm," would be enough to convey lack of interest in talking. It would be a foolish person who persisted.
But when a man walking a dog interrupts a woman on her own, there's an added sense for that woman of, "Uh-oh, what does he want?"
Some readers will think, "He only wanted to talk to you about the book you were reading," and that's as may be, but I WAS A WOMAN ON HER OWN WHO WAS OCCUPIED WITH A BOOK.
What part of that seems like an invitation to interrupt to you?
I did not make eye contact. I did not stand aside to let him past, because the bridge was plenty wide enough for both of us. His dog didn't trot in front of me and cause any sort of inconvenience beyond me thinking, "Ugh; I don't like dogs."
He had no reason to speak to me and stop in front of me other than making a nuisance of himself in a way that bordered on (maybe unintentional) intimidation. He asked about the book I was reading. Then he told me about a book he was looking for, as if I had that very tome stashed in my handbag. There was room to walk past him, so I did, hoping he wouldn't try to stop me, and he didn't. Not physically, anyway. He carried on the conversation after I twisted away to carry on walking.
That's right. He carried on talking after I had made clear my wish to get the hell out of there.
What sort of siren or alarm did this guy need? A red flag? A signpost? THIS WOMAN DOES NOT WANT TO SPEAK TO YOU. WHATEVER HER REASONS, RESPECT THEM AND MOVE ALONG.
I had an appointment to get to, but even if I'd just been out on a timewasting stroll, there is one thing I would like to make clear to the entire fucking world:
A WOMAN BEING OUT IN PUBLIC DOES NOT MAKE HER PUBLIC PROPERTY.