Once upon a time, years ago, I sat in a railway waiting room in Nantes, France, reading a life of Henri de la Rochejaquelein as I waited for my train. I was so absorbed in my book, in fact, that it took me a while to notice someone crouched right before me, busy rummaging through one of those large duffel bags. And rummaging. And rummaging. And rummaging…
I did notice in the end, and stole a glance over the book’s rim – and there was this bespectacled boy about my age, pretending fascination with the contents of his bag, and desperately trying to get a peep at what sort of story held my attention so thoroughly.
So I gave him a smile, and tilted the book to show him the cover. Caught in the act, the boy jumped a mile, blushed furiously, grabbed his bag, and fled – but not before stealing a glance at the title, much to the amusement of two of three rows of fellow travelers.And yet, you know, the French boy had no need whatsoever to blush and flee: I am just the same. I cannot see a reader without itching to know. On a train, at the airport, at the vet’s… I just can’t help myself. I turn as nonchalantly as I can, I pretend to retie a boot, I risk dislocating my eyeballs, I blush to interesting hues when I get caught. I do it all the time.
Curiosity? Yes and no. It’s hard to resist the temptation to decipher someone based on what they read… And I know that one single book means little – and even less when traveling. One reads strange things, when traveling: gifts bought for someone else, or the one decent title found at the duty free, or the small volume that fits in the hand-luggage, or a fellow traveler’s loan… Or not. It’s hard to tell, it can mean very little. And yet, we all do it. Or at least, I do – and like to draw conclusions.
Which is why, when I catch someone peeking at my books, I understand it very well, and always tilt the book to show them the cover. Sometimes I do inobtrusively, sometime I exchange a grin with the peeker. After all, we belong to the same tribe, don’t we -just like that boy in France, once upon a time. Those Who Peek At Other People’s Books.