Thursday, August 23, 2012

Seen Reading

From Kensington Market, Toronto

I am late into the game on this one, but in Toronto this last weekend, in an independent bookstore/tsotchke shop in Kensington Market called Good Egg, I found a book called Seen Reading by Julie Wilson. It's a lovely collection, with a beautiful pressed cover and tiny micro-fictions (one of my favorite genres) about people she's seen reading on "The Rocket" (Toronto subway). She lists what they are reading and what they look like on one page, then her little fiction on the facing page. I ate it up on the plane ride from Toronto to Chicago, and then wrote some of my own.

I was especially interested in making up what I think these women were thinking about. Julie Wilson makes third person stories, and speaks to their lives outside the circumstance she sees them in. For me, I was curious, in a Wings of Desire/angels listening in to human minds kind of way, about piecing together the "clues" I saw and coming up with possible thoughts. I make no claims to accuracy and likely my little stories are projections. But good exercises in compassion...Here are two:

A woman sitting on front of me on my left on American Airlines, Toronto Pearson to Chicago O'Hare Reading: Beyond Molasses Creek by Nicole Seitz (Thomas Nelson, January 2012, p 28)
Korean American woman, in her early 20's, wearing a tank top and shorts. Reads leaning to her left side, sips black coffee (no snacks) from a styrofoam cup. Three bobby pins holding her hair back on the right, one on the left. Tan bra strap showing on right side.

She has not eaten in two days. This time, maybe this time it will work. He will call. If she does not eat, he will call. She does not call anyone else, doesn't tell anyone else this is her plan. She turns the ring on her left middle finger with her left thumb as she reads. Eyes straight ahead, lost in the conversations between characters on the page. What if he doesn't call? Will she eat? When will she know when to give up. She doesn't give up. But she might give in.

Next to me, across the empty middle seat between us, on the aisle, same flight.
Reading: The Red and The Black by Stendhal (Dover Giant Thrift Edition, January 2004)
Caucasian woman in her 40's. Ann Taylor bag with brightly patterned fabric hanging out, ring on right middle finger. Red hair - dyed. Wearing sneakers and running pants, but sophisticated running pants. Impatient, squirmy, cranky - gets up to move a lot, upset. Taps feet. Blue sweater.

He won't like the bear. I worry he won't like the bear. I haven't seen him, this nephew, in so many years. For all I know he is into Pokemon now, or GI Joes, or those things are probably even dated. He's twelve, do twelve-year-olds still like teddy bears? Aunts? I wish they hadn't held me so long at customs. How was I to know that my work visa had expired? My papers are still up to date. Maybe I should get him something else at the airport. Something less boy-ish, more teenager-ish. I am so tired, I almost don't care. Except that I do, I do care, often too much about little boys and men.

You can join in by using the hash tag #seenreading on Twitter. Visit the website to get a taste before adding on your own seen readings.

Julie Wilson doesn't mention it explicitly but I thought it while reading/writing: it's hard to tell on devices now if folks are reading books or email or internet. I love that when someone is holding a book - even a Kindle can be hooked to the internet! - we know what they are reading. It's intimate and out there, right in the open. Also, it shows a commitment to me - books are heavy, can be hard to carry, and cost more money. Let's hope they aren't a fading luxury. But I luxuriate in looking at real books people are reading, and wondering about what they are thinking...


  1. I love that Julie's book inspired you to write some of your own "seen reading" microfictions! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for this, Miriam!

    "When will she know when to give up. She doesn't give up. But she might give in."

    Love that.