I can walk past an open window without peeping inside; when I hear someone cough or sneeze on a train, I have no compulsion to check out the person. I am what you might call a minder of my own business. Yet, there is one situation where I lose control, when I gawk, rubber neck, stick my nose in without any qualms. And that is when I see someone reading a book.
There must be a word for it, biblio-something. Perhaps I am a bibliosnoop, keen to see what the next person is reading, making mental notes to see if I would be seen reading such stuff, and barely controlling the urge to tap the person on the shoulder if he is reading a murder mystery I am familiar with, to tell him who the killer is.
Bibliosnoops hate other bibliosnoops. If someone were to even accidentally glance into the book I happened to be reading, he would be rewarded with a cold stare, and some choice words not easily found in most books.
In one dramatic instance, I even shut the book and presented it to a bibliosnoop. I thought he would be embarrassed, mutter something under his breath and walk away even as he returned my book, the point having been made. Well, three out of four ain’t so bad. He did appear embarrassed, he did mutter something under his breath, and he did walk away. But he kept the book with him. Dramatic gestures can be costly.
Perhaps it has to do with my infancy. I am told I was always one for jumping onto my father’s lap while he read the morning’s newspaper. From there to glancing and turning and moving closer and peeping into a book being read by someone else is but a step.
There are three possibilities. The person is reading a book I have already read, in which case I am disappointed. Or he is reading one which I haven’t, in which case I am disappointed for why would someone read a book I have no time for? Then there is a third possibility: he is reading a book I haven’t heard of but which looks interesting. I am disappointed again, but this time at myself, and my incomplete biblio-awareness.
It happens at the movies too. If I fail to read the title, it ruins the movie for me, and I am sleepless in Seattle and elsewhere. When a character in a train is reading, for example, and I can’t make out the title, there’s only one thing to be done. Get the movie to watch on TV at home, and pause at the critical moment. Cumbersome, I know, but deeply satisfying.