Walking While Reading

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Reading While Walking”  by Vonderauvisuals, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There is an older gentleman in my neighborhood, not unlike me in appearance, who likes to read while walking. I find myself chuckling to myself that here is someone even more fanatical about reading than I am! The only place I have ever read while walking is on my treadmill at home, to while away the monotony of wracking up those steps. Actually, even there, I often prefer to pray or meditate on my day. I’ve never gotten “read-walking.” (I will admit that sometimes, when I’ve had to read something and I’m sleepy, I may pace back and forth and read.)

Partly, it is the fact that when I am walking, I like to really give myself to the physical world around me, to savor and enjoy the smell of the air, the rustle of the leaves, the blueness of the sky, the bubbling of the nearby creek, or the variety of people in more crowded areas. All the delights in the world are not to be found between the pages of a book. Wherever they are, in a book, or in my surroundings, I want to savor them as fully as possible. At least for me, a multi-tasking approach of read-walking diminishes both.

I’ll also confess to a bit of clutziness. I’m near-sighted of eye and not exactly agile of foot. I probably need to pay attention when I’m walking or I’ll be endlessly scraping knees and hands and walking into trees, or other people. Perhaps there is a bit of an element of not wanting to appear even more of a book nerd than I am, but that is a minor concern.

So what has provoked my thoughts on this subject? Like many of my posts “on reading” it was a recent BookRiot guest post by Ilana Masad titled, “Readwalking: A Reader in Motion.” While she acknowledges the downsides–the hazards and the taunts of teenage boys among them, she also recounts the reasons why she loves to do this. One is that she really is a book nerd, and wrestles with the reality all of us do–that there are so many books, so little time. She’s an introvert, and sometimes the external world can be overwhelming and the retreat to a book a way to cope. Finally, and we really differ here, she likes the duality of real world/book world at the same time.

Obviously, there are people who see this differently than I do, enough apparently that there is a “WikiHow” with tips on “How to Read While Walking.” Some of the tips confirmed why I don’t do this–things like “have one hand free in case you fall” or “try to look up in front of you every couple of sentences or “every paragraph.” It seems to me that this makes for pretty distracted reading.

A few things do make sense, if you are still inclined to do this–don’t do this with books you want to mark up or write notes in, find books that are light weight, have large print, don’t read library books that could be damaged, particularly if it is threatening to rain, and don’t try to do this on a windy day. The books that have worked best for me on the treadmill are the page-turners, the same type of book that works well in an airport waiting area. You want something that you holds your attention, and that you can easily pick up when you are distracted with things like crossing streets, or stopping to talk to a neighbor who insists on talking with you even though you are giving off your best “I’m reading vibes.”

For me, a walk is its own joy, even in a crowded airport or city street. And curling up with a good book is a different one. It seems that too often we sacrifice savoring for just “getting things done.” We too often seem to define life by how much we can cram into it rather than by how fully we’ve lived each experience, each moment.

But that’s just one way of seeing it. If you are a reading walker, I’d like to hear your take on this. There are obviously a few of you out there!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Walking

Rocky Ridge neighborhood. Notice the tree-lined street.

Rocky Ridge neighborhood. Notice the tree-lined street.

The Way is Made by Walking” —title of a book by Arthur Paul Boers.

Many of us made our ways growing up in Youngstown by doing a considerable amount of walking. A number of people have mentioned this in comments to previous posts and this theme was suggested to me by reader Nancy Inglefield. For many of us growing up, we walked everywhere, and weren’t particularly afraid doing this (although I wonder if girls tended to go about more in groups and were more cautious in this regard).

Youngstown grew up as a pedestrian city with much of the early housing being located along the Mahoning River near the mills and other industries that grew up along the river. People walked to work, parishes were organized around these neighborhoods and so people walked to church. Local businesses grew up to serve people–groceries, drug stores, pizza shops, family run restaurants, hardware stores and more.

Even in the ’60s and early ’70s when I was growing up, this was so where I lived. I walked to every school I attended. The only time I ever rode on a school bus was for field trips. That was easy in elementary school, which was at the end of the street I lived on. Junior high was probably 3/4 of a mile and high school just under a mile and a half (we did get rides to high school from my parents or a neighbor family in really cold weather).

I lived close to Mahoning Avenue. One block west of where I lived, there was a veterinarian, a barber shop, a Dairy Queen that was a favorite summer hangout and a Lawson’s dairy store. Two blocks away was a Sparkle market where we did much of our grocery shopping. Further west up Mahoning Avenue was Petrillo’s pizza, the Schenley Theatre, the Gran Lanes for bowling, and the West Side branch of the library. Further up over the hill, you could walk to the Mahoning Plaza where I loved to go to Western Auto to get accessories for my bike.

One block east toward town, there was an appliance store (Dave’s) where I bought my first stereo, a post office, and a bar. Two blocks east, there was a beer and wine shop and “Pop’s” grocery where I would go to buy baseball cards. In the next few blocks east, there was a bank, a Stambaugh Thompsons (that later closed), a gas station, an Isaly’s store where we could get chip-chopped ham and skyscraper cones, and the fire station where I paid my paper route bills each week to The Vindicator. Just beyond the drug store was the Mahoning Pharmacy where I picked up prescriptions for my parents, bought science fiction paperbacks, and when I was older, would use the phone booth to call girls I didn’t want my parents to overhear me talking to! (That got kind of expensive and a pain when the calls were long-distance and the operator would come on and say “fifty cents for ten more minutes” or something to that effect!). Across the street was a shoe repair shop and a jewelry store, as well as a triple-X movie theatre, the Mahoning Follies, where in more innocent days, my parents had their first date.

I roamed all over the West side as a kid. Practically every day spring through fall I’d be up to Borts Field to play baseball, football, or basketball depending on the season and to swim at Borts Pool. In the winter I went ice-skating on the flooded tennis courts, or if it was cold enough long enough, on Lake Glacier. We’d go over to Holy Name Church for church festivals, or to one of the union halls when friends older brothers or sisters got married. When I cut lawns and delivered papers, I walked with my mower to all the jobs, and usually walked several blocks one way to pick up my papers and several more back to deliver them in all kinds of weather.

When I was young my dad would take me for walks in Mill Creek Park. I remember getting up early on Saturday, packing bacon and eggs which we cooked on an open fire in the park. The talks we had on those walks are cherished memories to this day. From junior high on, I’d go on rambles in the park, wandering the trails that run through the park, sometimes with my dog Sandy.

We hear so much more these days about childhood obesity. I was “chubby” when I was young but slimmed down, I think, because of all that walking. We didn’t look to our parents as a taxi service–there usually was only one car and dad had it at work. And we had sidewalks before suburban sprawl and car culture took over. Part of why we felt safe walking simply had to do with not having to share the road with cars. Most of the places we walked, there were lots of people around from neighbors to other kids to businesses.

It does seem this has changed in many communities. We don’t work, shop, play, or eat out where we live but in “commercial developments” that you have to drive some distance to reach. Because of “car culture” some of the roads in my city don’t even have sidewalks including several near us, one of which has had a pedestrian fatality. Neighborhoods without front porches and where everyone is away during the day mean fewer people to watch out for the kids. Sure, the technology and commercial attractions our children have today would have blown our minds. But I also think of what we’ve lost in cityscapes where we felt free to roam and interact with adults at local businesses independent of our parents.

How much did you walk growing up? Did it seem safe to you? How have you seen things change?