On The New Yorker Magazine Blog, The Book Bench, they have a page called Bookspotting, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/bookspotting/. It is not unlike the Metropolitan Diary that appears each Monday in my edition of The New York Times. However, Bookspotting is devoted to observations of people reading in various public settings. Most are quite amusing.
Here is a recent one from the Book Bench:
Late Thursday night, on the local train, heading down to Tribeca. We’re weary passengers tonight: the train is half empty, people slumped, clutching their bags, the lights blurring the orange seats. A young woman is holding a Penguin Classic—“Jane Eyre,” to be precise—lips pursed and brow furrowed in perfect concentration. A lovely shade of natural blond frames her face, and she’s still got freckles from the summer, the same size as the umlaut in Brontë on the book’s spine. She’s in a white long-sleeve polo and bluejeans, her legs criss-crossed around a Gap bag. All she needs is a golden retriever, a lacrosse stick, and a Volvo station wagon to complete the picture; all she has is Mr. Rochester and his Thornfield Manor.
I have been making occasional fragmentary observations on the urban scene for years. They are not centered on book reading per se, but here is one about readers that I observed during a recent visit to a restaurant.
Two Japanese American couples entered the dining room with their children. The two sets of parents sat down at one end of the table, the four children at the other. I assumed each couple had two children, all of whom were young girls. The menus arrived, they were inspected, the parents ordered, and chatted with each other once in a while.
Three of the four young girls immediately took out their books and began to read. Not a word was exchanged between them. They read continuously, peering intently at the pages, bent over their books with considerable concentration, completely oblivious to anything else going on around them. The youngest of the four girls had taken out her iPod and listened to something while the others were reading. Thinking the best, I imagined that she was listening to an audio book. The readers continued with their tales until their meal arrived.
They picked up their books once again as soon as they had rapidly finished eating. Meanwhile, at other nearby tables, the young children of American couples nibbled a little of this and that, sans book, sans iPod or game-player, not doing much of anything really, awaiting the arrival of their burger and fries.
There are still a great many readers of literature in this country. Elsewhere I have criticized research reporting the sharp decline of reading in recent years. Readers may read a greater range of materials than is measured in these studies and fluctuations in the frequency of reading and book buying are to be expected. Of course, we cannot infer much from examples of bookspotting. Nevertheless I would welcome any bookspotting observations that you might wish to report. They may be more revealing than you suspect.