Reading When We “Shouldn’t”

Photo by Tim Samuel on

Have you ever tried to read when you really shouldn’t have? It is so tempting, especially when we are in the middle of a good book, or have something we need to read before an imminent meeting, to try to read and do something else, sometimes in situations where this might be a very bad idea.

I asked the Bob on Books Facebook page about this and discovered there are a number of instances where this might occur. The instance pictured above was surprisingly common. Almost everyone who mentioned this said they gave this up long ago. I hope so–probably just as dangerous as texting or even looking at your cell phone. I can think of a few instances I tried it on a long boring stretch of road. I really couldn’t focus on what I was reading. So I gave it up. I want to read books when I can enjoy them.

I was surprised how many read during classes–something other than the textbook. There is the book inside book trick (ideal for comics) or the book in your lap approach. Sadly, some felt so ignored by the teacher that this was how they coped.

Then there was the forbidden reading–those “adult” books that we snuck into our rooms. As an adolescent boy curious about sex, I got an education of sorts reading a number of Ian Fleming books until dad caught me and the books ended in the trash can. Another wrote about reading her mother’s hidden copy of Forever Amber back in 1950!

Of course, nearly all of us dedicated bibliophiles were accomplished at reading under the covers in bed with a flashlight! When a flashlight wasn’t available, one person captured fireflies in a mason jar and read by the light of them under the covers. Some of us still stay up all night reading a page turner only to pay for it the next day.

Then there is the creative multi-tasking reader. One was so caught up with a book that he read a book while showering by holding the book outside the shower. Another tried to do this while proctoring a test. One was reading while their flight was leaving (presumably without them) and another during her labor (I mean, what do you do between contractions?).

The funniest stories were those where the person got busted. Of course, sooner or later most teachers caught us with books inside of books or on our laps. A few even let us do it if we got our work done and got good grades. Then there were those who gave us more work or had us write a book report on the book we were reading. Then there was the guy who read while waiting to bat in baseball practice and ended up doing a lot of running. Or the doctor who got pretty angry when his patient (8 years old) started reading after retinal surgery. Sometimes we bust ourselves, particularly if we try reading while walking and trip or walk into walls or light posts.

Sometimes we really ought to be doing something else–hosting a party, listening to a sermon, washing dishes, running a die cast and trim press, or just listening to our son. We readers are an incorrigible bunch. For many of us, our books are the introvert’s refuge. For some of us, the worlds created by an author are preferable to the hum-drum of our lives.

The point of this post is not to tell other adults what they should or shouldn’t do in terms of reading habits, other than I’m pretty persuaded that reading and driving are a bad combination. What I have personally come to is that books, at least good ones, like good friends, don’t deserve to be multi-tasked. They yield their greatest benefits when we give them our full attention–whether to amuse or instruct. But as long as no one is hurt, I have to admit that the stories of reading when we “shouldn’t” can be pretty fun–and if you are a reader, you have them! I know I do!

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