The Pleasures of Reading While Walking

reading while walking belle

Recently Book Riot’s Elizabeth Bastos posted a short piece titled “Reading While Walking” in which she lamented the fact that many people can only find time to read in snippets whilst doing other things, that reading is often not afforded the full attention of an afternoon or evening doing nothing but spending time with the characters and ideas between the bindings.

My experience of reading while walking, however, is quite a different one. Not a tale of having no other time, but of being so caught-up by books as to be unable to waste my walking time with just walking.

When I was twelve and thirteen I read on my walk home from school every day. This is how I experienced To Kill a Mockingbird (imagining one knotted tree on the way home as the place where Scout and Jem discovered Boo’s gifts) and how I powered through the whole of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series. I loved it, this time alone with the changing leaves of a midwestern fall and the feel of paper between my fingers. Years later, attending a walking meditation at a Buddhist monastery, there was a distinct similarity in the sense of moment-focused movement.

reading while walkingAs I grew up I moved into more urban areas and had to mostly give up reading whilst walking — the foot traffic being too heavy to avoid bumping into hazards or other pedestrians (that said, I have one friend in Wellington who has made reading while walking an art form and I have yet to hear of her bumping into people or objects). Also, these days most of my walking is done with my dog and my attention as a result is focused on keeping an eye out for the neighbourhood cats, whom she finds very interesting. Still, I pine for those days of walk-reading; never, for me, a sign of having too little time, but rather, a sign of utter devotion. I’d like to start again.

For those interested in giving Walking While Reading a try, here’s my advice:

1. Read on walking routes you know well and that are traffic-free or very low traffic (both pedestrian and vehicular). As much as I love reading, risking personal safety to make it through another twenty pages really isn’t worth it. This is the main reason I never walk-read in downtown areas. It’s also best to avoid reading on routes that have a lot of opportunities for tripping, such as uneven foot paths or areas with many tree roots or stones.

2. Walk slowly. This allows you to both relish and extend the experience, and adds another level of safety.

3. When walk-reading, choose light paperbacks that can be held open with one hand. A non-reflective e-reader would also work, but I find paper books have a better outdoor aesthetic. In my experience avoiding larger books, and thus allowing you to keep one hand free, is generally wise when your attention is divided.

4. Try not to pick material which you will want to underline or write marginalia in; if you try to do so while walking, it will be wobbly, if you stop to write, it will interrupt the fluidity of your pace.

5. Choose as sunny and wind-free a day as your location will allow (here’s a challenge Wellingtonians), this will provide for the most pleasure in being outdoors and the greatest ease of page-turning.

6. Be safe and enjoy.

Liz Gillett

5 thoughts on “The Pleasures of Reading While Walking

  1. Marti says:

    When I was travelling along Tamaki Deive to university in the late 70’s I would see the original Marbeck of Marbecks Records walking and reading his way to the shop every day. I resolved to learn that skill and have progressed to reading in the shower…

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  2. L. Palmer says:

    I’m a major fan of reading while walking, and with my 7 inch tablet, I can now write while walking too. I have a 10 minute walk from my bus stop to my office, and often find myself trying to cram in one more sentence, one more word of the story before reaching work.

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  3. not-me says:

    Walking while reading is the best way to enjoy books such as Swiss Family Robinson, Kidnapped, or anything by Twain. I’ve learned to keep one eye on the ground and both ears on the traffic, but the older I get the more likely I am to wait until reaching the park before pulling my book out.

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