Hoochie Mama – The Other White Meat and Razor Wire Pubic Hair: Books as Stranger Repellent

A version of this entry appeared previously on Snarky’s Machine

As a person who does not particularly enjoy unsolicited social engagement, I find myself locked in an epic battle to protect my precious SAUs (social attention units). I am constantly road testing strategies to ensure this adorable and accessible looking face doesn’t start interactions this adorable and inaccessible mind is unable to sustain. If this is not your experience, I’m happy for you, but I can probably do without hearing all the ways in which this makes me “lucky”. I don’t feel lucky and if I don’t moderate my time I’m exhausted when it’s over and disappointed with myself I didn’t fake labor in order to secure my escape.

One strategy I employ involves heavy use of my cellphone. Seriously, I will not leave my house without my phone and will always call someone and talk to them. People often try to talk to me in public places, asking for suggestions or making nice nice. Now, when I’m in the south, all this goes out the window cause it’s real bad manners not to offer your opinion on the heat when asked by a southerner. Besides, they know when the conversation has run its course and are more than happy to mosey along their merry way.

The other strategy I employ is carrying around books. I read them in line and just about any place where there are a collection of strangers waiting for something to happen.

Here is Snarky’s Trust me I’ve done the legwork approved list of books that guarantee your personal space bubble will not be breached.* Inclusion on the list does not constitute a recommendation – though nearly all were enjoyable to me – rather it simply means the title provided effective protection of SAUs.

Airports and such

  • This would probably strike most as counterintuitive, but AIRPORT LIT is the best choice to avoid AIRPORT bubble breachers. I’m talking about pulling out the big guns: Crichton, Grisham, Balducci, Grafton and Cook. People often romanticize air travel believing anyone flying has the potential to be enthralling.

    It’s a great time to pick up a copy of A Time to Kill This Close Talking Assclown or S is for STEP OFF BUBBLE BREACHER.** The key here is the copy should be totally brand new, preferably purchased from the gift shop. Extra points for using the receipt as a bookmark. Additional note: obscure titles are generally less effective and tend to welcome rather than discourage conversation.

Waiting Rooms – Medical

  • Since there is often a paucity of anything worth reading if you’re not say a parent, gun enthusiast or a card carrying member of AARP, the selection of periodicals provided offer no immunity from bubble breachers whose first comment will involve noting the vintage of the magazines. If you ARE a parent, gun enthusiast or a card carrying member of AARP certainly your lived experiences are probably a lot more exciting than what could be found in those stale periodicals.

    Books with provocative titles casting medical professionals or the profession in general in a rather unflattering light are the most effective. Your Dentist might not have read Marathon Man but it’s likely they will know what is meant by the phrase “Marathon Man Dentistry”. If this is the first time you’re hearing this phrase, google is definitely your friend. I’ll let you do the legwork on that one.

Waiting Rooms – Other

  • A diverse range of subjects are suitable for SAUs protection. I lean towards books overtly sexual in nature, though best selling “female” focused self help and astrology titles are useful as well. Car Dealerships are good places to bring out the feminist non fiction or a “Clown Horn” feminist work like Fear of Flying. There is something about a book exploring a woman’s sexual awakening that will make people scoot away and redirect their attention to The Price is Right faster than you can utter “zipless fuck”.

Coffeehouses, Bookstores and other “enlightened” spaces

  • Since folks often venture to these establishments for the express purposes of imposing themselves on strangers Young Adult fiction is often the best bet. Nothing thwarts this particular strain of breacher like the idea that you just might not be very well read.

Restaurants

  • “Offensive” titles are the strongest weapon in the bubble breach protection arsenal. Think of them as broad spectrum antibiotics to be used judiciously.

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* offer void where prohibited. some restrictions may apply.
** actual titles may vary. check local outlets for similar products available in your area.

155 thoughts on “Hoochie Mama – The Other White Meat and Razor Wire Pubic Hair: Books as Stranger Repellent

  1. Oh the Cathy 20th anniversary edition made me laugh. I don’t get chatted up too often, but I was once chatted up by a woman WHILE I WAS READING. Unbelievable.

  2. Some of those books sound terrible, some sound amazing. Is How to Spot a Bastard tongue in cheek or am I really expected to use it as relationship advice? I read a couple of the reviews, and it would seem some readers couldn’t tell, either.

    Razor Wire Pubic Hair… heh, I might read that if I weren’t terrified of my mother/father/daughter stumbling across the title.

    I don’t know that reading such interesting titles is the best way to avoid someone striking up a conversation with me, though. Seems like it would be an easy lead it… “Huh. Coma? What’s that about?” Or do I just pretend to be so absorbed in the book I can’t hear them?

  3. Hi Ms Snarky~~~

    True story: I had one of those one-annoyance-after-another attempts at getting to Oakland airport from SF some years ago. It culminated in being dropped off (late) at terminal 2 and having to sprint back to terminal 1 to catch my Southwest flight before it left without me. I came hurtling up to the desk just as they were about to call names of standby people and give away my seat, so I was maybe the 2nd to last person to get on the plane. This was when SWA had these weird seats in the front, two rows of 3 people FACING each other! Of course the last two available seats were in the squishy center and all the other passengers squeezed into this little bit of heaven were men sitting splay legged and stretched out, with elbows anchored to the armrests. I was sweaty and panting and soooo aggravated as I claimed my sliver of space between this bunch of social morons. When I finally got settled, I took out the book I just happened to be reading, “Intercourse” by Andrea Dworkin. The charmer next to me was simultaneously “reading” this grisly true detective style book about serial killers that had the requisite grainy black and white crime scene photos of women, giant type and every sordid thing. I don’t necessarily credit those guys in the other seats with having any awareness of AD’s writing, but to me the irony was stunning and hilarious, and never was I so pleased with my choice of reading armor in a public place. Highly recommended.

  4. I’m totally with you on the women’s sexuality books. I was able to keep a lot of people away from me with Leonard Shlain’s Sex, Time and Power: How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution (including my boyfriend at the time’s parents- that totally put the kibosh on any awkward conversations). My best luck has been with the Alcoholics Anonymous reader. The title is embossed into the cover so it’s not totally readable, making it look like a Bible. NO ONE approaches me when I read that, no matter what I’m wearing or what time of day it is. Consequently, I have absorbed a tremendous amount of information about the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    I must disagree with you about the astrology titles, though, being an astrologer myself and frequently reading astrology books and articles in public. I actually have to hide my book and magazine covers quite often, otherwise I’ll inevitably get some douchehound who sees it and is all, “Hey, is that astrology? I’m a Libra, so does that mean you’re instantly attracted to me?” (It’s always Libras who do that, strangely enough.)

  5. I’ve found that the best defense is a book in a language other than English, or something really seriously non-fiction like Historical Linguistics. Hardcover if possible.

  6. I must disagree with you about the astrology titles, though, being an astrologer myself and frequently reading astrology books and articles in public. I actually have to hide my book and magazine covers quite often, otherwise I’ll inevitably get some douchehound who sees it and is all, “Hey, is that astrology? I’m a Libra, so does that mean you’re instantly attracted to me?” (It’s always Libras who do that, strangely enough.)

    I just mean the cheesy ones. The good ones are definitely asking for trouble!

    If the last parenthetical statement was said in earnest I’d guess Cancer, if tongue is planted firmly in cheek I’m gonna go with the “nice” fire sign, Sag.

    I’m a mean ass bratty aries, if that wasn’t obvious.

  7. I don’t know that reading such interesting titles is the best way to avoid someone striking up a conversation with me, though. Seems like it would be an easy lead it… “Huh. Coma? What’s that about?” Or do I just pretend to be so absorbed in the book I can’t hear them?

    Not framed as “interesting” rather “offensive”. There’s a distinction.

  8. Ha, if I didn’t need an aide I would totally do this. As it is, having another person with me seems to keep most of the random conversation seekers away.

    The term SAU will now be part of my personal lexicon! So relevant to those of us for whom social interaction is mentally draining.

  9. I’ve found that the best defense is a book in a language other than English, or something really seriously non-fiction like Historical Linguistics. Hardcover if possible.

    Definitely agree with this. When I was taking a German Sociology course – course taught in German – it provided wonderful protection from all manner of bubble breaching jokers.

  10. When I finally got settled, I took out the book I just happened to be reading, “Intercourse” by Andrea Dworkin. The charmer next to me was simultaneously “reading” this grisly true detective style book about serial killers that had the requisite grainy black and white crime scene photos of women, giant type and every sordid thing. I don’t necessarily credit those guys in the other seats with having any awareness of AD’s writing, but to me the irony was stunning and hilarious, and never was I so pleased with my choice of reading armor in a public place. Highly recommended.

    Sounds like success! It’s even better when it’s a book you actually wish to read, as was the case in nearly all of my examples. A few were either gag gifts or assigned reading. Nevertheless, SAUs protection is great in whatever way one can obtain it.

  11. The one thing I do on the train that never gets interrupted is… math homework. Apparently no one wants to talk to a girl with a protractor.

  12. I have found one place where people will generally leave each other alone: a therapist’s office. There’s something about being in a context that suggests “mental illness” that makes everyone mind their own damn business. In a year of going to this one therapist, no one has ever so much as tried to make eye contact with me in the waiting room.

    Oh, and I used to think that books with religious titles would tend to keep people away, but I was incorrect. Just the other day, I was returning from the university library with a bunch of sociology books on evangelicalism, and I was flipping through one called “Christian America”: What Evangelicals Really Want while waiting for my bus, when a man stopped to ask me if I had ever read The Purpose Driven Life. He then proceeded to talk at me for 20 minutes about how Jesus has a plan for our lives whilst sipping furtively from a can in a paper sack. I shit you not.

  13. My suggestion: a thick magazine full of Logic Puzzles. People will write you off faster than a charity contribution.

  14. It is interesting to read about bubble-breachers; I live in Europe and we do not seem to have this problem – quite the opposite. It is extremely rude to talk to a stranger (unless asking for directions or something similar) and most people avoit it at all costs.

  15. I have found one place where people will generally leave each other alone: a therapist’s office. There’s something about being in a context that suggests “mental illness” that makes everyone mind their own damn business.

    STD clinics are pretty good for that too.

  16. I’ve had inconsistent results with the women’s sexuality/feminist lit on my little slice of public transit heaven. The Vagina Monologues = snickering males in their late teens behind me for a dozen blocks–but they didn’t actually approach me. The Second Sex actually led to a lovely conversation with the young woman next to me one morning, which was hardly a waste of my own SAUs, but YMMV, natch. I’ve had best luck esoteric-sounding books of poetry. On the other hand, I usually like talking books with people in public (result of being an extrovert English major/library science student!), unless they’re obvious skeezebags/looking to chat me up. In which case, out comes my copy of Eunoia, and no eye contact for you!

  17. when a man stopped to ask me if I had ever read The Purpose Driven Life. He then proceeded to talk at me for 20 minutes about how Jesus has a plan for our lives whilst sipping furtively from a can in a paper sack. I shit you not.

    Ha! Oh my goodness that’s delicious.

    It is interesting to read about bubble-breachers; I live in Europe and we do not seem to have this problem – quite the opposite. It is extremely rude to talk to a stranger (unless asking for directions or something similar) and most people avoit it at all costs.

    Absolutely! It was seven years of bliss while living in Europe that I had to cultivate these habits, because I simply was not used to people violating my bubble. It was not the done thing in Europe. Even if you were smashed together at McD’s at the same time (something that shocked me the first time it happened) folks did not see this as an opportunity to chat you up.

  18. This post is full of win.

    My last semester in college I took a course called “Developmental Psychobiology”. I used to travel very late at night to see my boyfriend, and one night a Metro cop starting trying to chat me up. After the “flirtatiously” intrusive personal questions about where I was going and whether someone was picking me up on the other end he got around to asking what I was reading about.

    All I had to do was show him the book cover and he was gone.

  19. I find my constant scowl and ice-melting glare to be an effective way to discourage unwanted comments.

    I have these too, but it’s hard to pull off at 5’0.5 and saddled with a cute face.

  20. @ Semmerl~

    Absolutely. My ex husband was British, and the first time someone spoke to him on the street in the US , he jumped nearly two feet back.
    And it wasn’t even that extreme an incident; this was in Boston, not an especially open and ‘friendly’ city.

    Though my own experiences would prompt me to claim Italy as an exception to this?

  21. “I’ve found that the best defense is a book in a language other than English, or something really seriously non-fiction like Historical Linguistics. ”

    I used to review my Sanskrit homework on the long bus ride to university, and actually had quite a number of very intrigued people ask me about it. So I guess it depends on the language; my mother always told me I should have studied French instead…

  22. People only seem to burn up my SAUs when I’m not reading. So I heartily recommend uni readers, Oscar Wilde, The Art Of War and Guy de Maupassant.

  23. I am adorable in a keep-the-fuck-away-from-me way, which makes for some highly entertaining interactions in my southern home state. People actually bother me MORE when I’m doing anything in public other than piercing them with my unintentionally trenchant gaze. I don’t do it on purpose; it’s just the way my face is put together. For which I regularly offer burnt offerings of thanks to my ancestors.

  24. This post was very funny, but I seem to have the opposite experience: reading in public seems to invite people to talk to me. Even when I’m reading conversationally-repellent books like the ones you mentioned, I still get barraged with nosy conversationalists. Whenever I pull out a book to read in public, a alarm goes off in a Central Nosy Person Clearinghouse and they immediately dispatch fifteen units to interrupt me at five-minute intervals to ask “What are you reading? What are you reading?” No matter what I’m reading, this question is always followed by a “Isn’t that KYOOT?” type of response. Please, tell me, o beloved SP commentariat: Is it just because I’m a young-looking girl, and people aren’t used to seeing teenage girls reading? Please tell me this is so, that when I’m 25 I will no longer set off the alarm in the Central Nosy Person Clearing House like I do at 18. Even when I’m reading, I dunno, Rosemary Rodgers romances with the cheesiest clinch-flowy-haired-bare-chested covers imaginable, the kind that are visible from 15 feet away, and scream “Hi, I’m reading a historical romance with an improbably hung hero and an improbably skilled virgin heroine!” people STILL ask me what I’m reading. I swear, if it doesn’t stop soon, I’m going to start replying “Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles/Star Trek crossover bondage threesome porn” without looking up.

  25. “I find my constant scowl and ice-melting glare to be an effective way to discourage unwanted comments.

    I have these too, but it’s hard to pull off at 5′0.5 and saddled with a cute face.”

    Yeah- I don’t even have the scowl. I’m not 5’0.5 or particularly cute, but I have a perpetual smile. I have been informed by friends that I sometimes look smiley even when I am ranting about things that really, really piss me off. In 7th grade I actually had to practice giving dirty looks in the mirror, and then the people I gave them to burst out laughing. Apparently my facial expression says “I am a Happy Person from Planet Sunshine, come bathe in my giggle rays” even when I’m feeling homicidal. Perpetual smiles + a proclivity towards girly, ruffly, lacy clothes= might as well wear a sign in public that says “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm here to offer conversation and consolation to every random stranger!”

  26. Please, tell me, o beloved SP commentariat: Is it just because I’m a young-looking girl, and people aren’t used to seeing teenage girls reading? Please tell me this is so, that when I’m 25 I will no longer set off the alarm in the Central Nosy Person Clearing House like I do at 18

    I’m 37 and from my experience it doesn’t seem to go away. The only difference being I feel much more comfortable now telling someone to “back the bleep up” than I did at 18, though in most cases it didn’t stop me from doing it then either.

  27. If a book existed that was called “I’m needy and want to be married” that would probably do the job in keeping most men at arm’s length.

    I’m inclined to believe that a lot of men have to just say SOMETHING, however silly especially if they are older men. Last week I was going through the supermarket checkout when a man piped up with “I’ve just had an injection in my arm. I had to get up early to have it and went without my breakfast.” Oh…thanks for sharing.

    Incidentally, reading Bruce Lee’s “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do”, keeps people at a distance.

  28. I also come from a Don’t Talk to Strangers It’s Rude country so this is interesting. I am only regularly chatted to or stopped by tourists wanting recommendations or directions because I live in a CBD area close to where a lot of cruise ships dock.* And then, more often Americans rather than tourists of other nationalities.

    *I’m not counting regular stranger-acquaintances (acquaintangers?). I used to live in a fairly out of the way area and the same small group of people caught the same bus every day. Even then it took MONTHS for someone to consider striking up a conversation at random, and that was rare. Mostly you would get a polite nod or hello. So I read or snoozed (it was a long bus ride) in peace.

  29. Brilliant post! You’ve earned your nickname. ;) I especially liked the airport choices …

    I think I have the opposite problem, personally. I’ve been working extra, super, mega long hours lately, in a new city where I don’t know many people, and my work isn’t inherently social (like, say, a teacher’s), it’s mostly sit by yourself and just DO IT, often in front of a computer.

    Thus, I have an enormous surplus SAU’s right now! So long as they’re not creeps, I kind of like talking to strangers. In passing, you know, not at length.

    For fear of _being_ one of those over-gregarious people, though, I’ll be sure to give a wide berth to anyone reading the above titles … it can be our secret signal to keep silent.

    I will say, tho — when *I’m* reading — some of us extroverts have an introvert side, too — I hate being bothered for idle chitchat. With a good book, I’m like a dog at the food bowl — no interruptions, please!

  30. Re: Snarky’s- If the last parenthetical statement was said in earnest I’d guess Cancer

    COMPLETELY in earnest. I’ve even taken a count- they have ALL been Libras, except for maybe one. I wouldn’t think a Cancer would do it- Cancers are pretty self-protective, and the fear of being told to fuck off by a strange woman in front of a lot of people is greater than the hope she might actually talk to him. Libras, on the other hand, are always trying to be “nice” to other people, and many of the Libras who happen to be entitled men just cannot understand why someone would NOT want to talk to them. They’re just being nice!!!!1 So it totally makes sense to me. (p.s. have you had your birthday already, or is it this week?)

    When I was still in the throes of my disordered eating, I also found that publicly reading or at least perusing anything that has the words “Colon” or “Cleanse” on the cover (which at the time I presumed to be law) kept people pretty far away. Because ew, who wants to talk to a woman with a colon?

  31. *love* this! I find I do better with being left alone when I wear glasses.

    My problem is checkout lines – for some reason, I always end up ahead of or behind a random older man who feels it is vital that he make me talk to him. Then they follow me, trying to make me smile. I perfected my icy stare for those occasions.

    Also, crossword books don’t work. Men always want to lean over you and impress you with their word-solving prowess. The only way I can get them to back off is to explain my solving strategy, where no clue may be solved until a letter from another clue crosses it. They then back away slowly. Go figure.

  32. “I swear, if it doesn’t stop soon, I’m going to start replying “Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles/Star Trek crossover bondage threesome porn” without looking up.”

    I swear this is now going to be my answer to that ridiculous question. Every time. Even in library school when folks I’d think might understand the allure of a good book feel like honor-compelled to blatantly stare at the cover and then me and ask “What’s that about?” as if they really care in the first place and don’t really just want to discuss whatever boring-as-hell-to-me story THEY just finished reading…

    Please tell me this is so, that when I’m 25 I will no longer set off the alarm in the Central Nosy Person Clearing House like I do at 18.

    Sadly I’m finding that even at 29 this phenomenon has not diminished. Sometimes I wonder if being morbidly obese (and yet still relatively “cute” female) means people think I’m a non-threat and therefore easy to approach or maybe in need of a pity-talk and therefore they are doing a noble good by trying to rip me out of my book-induced fantasy world to talk to them? Trust me peeps, I got friends. You ain’t them. I am READING. So back off and find someone else to annoy with endless prattle about your recent medical procedures which, for some reason, is sparked by your interest in my YA book’s “interesting” cover.

    Mini-rant over I have to agree with the potential off-putting vibes that some of these titles suggest and hope to pick a few up; thanks Snarky for the great ideas.

    Another strategy I picked up somewhere which usually gets stares and backing away is to not have any sort of earphones and yet be either muttering or mouthing the words to songs. Or grocery lists. Whatever. So long as I look like I’m conversing with myself (a tactic used only if I’ve forgotten my books really) I haven’t been bothered. I’m not sure if it is because I look like stereotyped “crazy” individual or if people somehow respect someone singing to the music in her own head…but I have had some thrilling conversations with myself in this manner ;)

  33. I haven’t read “Razor Wire Pubic Hair” but I have read “War Slut” and it had the effect of everyone asking me what it was about. EVERYONE! I’m very confrontantial, but I know people regard me as weird for reading in the first place, so I want to avoid attention when I’m reading something like that book, or feminist literature. I think it depends a lot of the age group and the location though. Maybe a high school in Missouri wasn’t the place for that book, because fuck even the teachers felt the need to ask me about it.

    For me though, it doesn’t matter what I’m reading or what I’m doing. One thing will constantly push people over the limits of shutting the fuck up and force them to talk to me. My fucking hair. I’m sure it’s much worse for WOC, but I can be sitting, reading a book and eating a sammich and people will randomly make statements about my hair. NOT COMPLIMENTS, fucking STATEMENTS.

    I was clerking an auction and on a short break, dead to the world, over the weekend when some woman from 30 feet away and behind my back says, “You sure have a lot of curly hair. I bet that must be hot.” I get that shit daily. Maybe I should make a fake book cover that simply says, “Don’t Comment About My Hair: I know it’s curly and very thick.”

    I love this post though, because to go along with the great writing it’s got book recommendations. From someone who’s taste I have faith in!

  34. The Kindle has made this problem substantially worse for me — now it’s, “Ooh, what is that?” or “Is that a Kindle? How do you like it?” “How do you get books on it?” “How do you turn the page?” instead of “What are you reading?” Now, I MOSTLY don’t mind this as much as I mind when people act like they’ve never seen a fucking book before, because I get that people are going to be curious about new technology — and about 50% of people who inquire are interested in getting one for an elderly parent who can’t easily hold a book or read small type anymore, so I’m happy to talk it up. But still, at some point it’s like, “You know what the best part is? How it allows me to READ BOOKS. Which is what I was doing before you got here. READING. QUIETLY. TO MYSELF. Which is much harder to do when I’m TALKING TO A STRANGER.” (I guess that’s one more reason not to even consider getting an iPad for reading purposes until everyone’s over them.)

    Also, the problem increases tenfold if you sometimes like to sit at a bar and read, which I do. If you’re reading in an airport, people think it’s normal, and if you’re reading in a restaurant, at least people don’t feel they have as much right to talk to you. But if you read at a bar? People automatically assume you are lonely and sad and need to be rescued. And I mean, I suppose if I were sitting at a bar downing an entire pitcher by myself while reading a relationship self-help book, that might be true. But when I’m having dinner and perhaps a glass of wine while reading a novel, it’s because I really enjoy all of the above, not because I couldn’t get anyone to go out with me. I’ve got a good story and someone bringing me food and drink on demand, so I am happy as a pig in shit, actually. And I wish I could wear a sign on my forehead that says, “No, really, I am happy as a pig in shit right now,” because if I wanted to be talking, I would PUT DOWN THE BOOK AND CALL A FRIEND.

    Finally, the ones that really make me furious are the ones who go, “Whatcha readin’? Is it good?” and then, upon hearing the answer, proudly declare that they don’t really like reading. Well then, what possible reason could you have to care what I am reading? Answer: None. You just fundamentally do not understand people who do like reading, so you assume you’re doing me a favor by rescuing me from that boring old book and engaging me in conversation. Better yet, you’ve now established not being a reader as the normal position in your worldview,thereby essentially daring me to explain that I’m not just some anti-social nerd or something. Except guess what, I AM AN ANTI-SOCIAL NERD. AND A MINUTE AGO, I WAS HAPPY.

    Yeah, this subject sets me off a bit.

  35. I find reading technical manuals most effective — something with at least one acronym in the title, and nothing as mainstream as HTML. For example, “Understanding and Deploying LDAP Directory Services” to pull one title off my shelf. The only people inclined to want to chat about them would be other geeks who are most likely not interested in squandering any of their own limited SAUs.

  36. “I’ve got a good story and someone bringing me food and drink on demand, so I am happy as a pig in shit, actually.”

    Ahaha, so true. Not a sad spinster* crying salty tears at my lonely predicament, no looks of pity (or in your case interruptions) necessary thankseverso. I won’t be thanking you for your thoughtful condescension.

    * Used deliberately because woman(in particular)-eating-alone totes goes into “Well no one loves her, woe is her” territory.

  37. I find reading Kindle books on my iPhone to be useful for this – I think people assume that I’m just texting boring things to friends and leave me alone.

  38. Ha. This post is great.

    But…talking to someone on the phone as a way to avoid social interaction? I don’t get it. (I mean, I sort of get it, you get to choose the person you talk to on the phone and presumably it would be someone who doesn’t annoy you, but still.)

    People don’t typically bother me if I’m reading any book in public. Maybe because I’m not in the South. Although Midwesterners do also have the “friendly” reputation…

  39. I am constantly road testing strategies to ensure this adorable and accessible looking face doesn’t start interactions this adorable and inaccessible mind is unable to sustain. If this is not your experience, I’m happy for you, but I can probably do without hearing all the ways in which this makes me “lucky”. I don’t feel lucky and if I don’t moderate my time I’m exhausted when it’s over and disappointed with myself I didn’t fake labor in order to secure my escape.

    Heh. I guess being tall, fat, and unadorable with a face that tends towards frowniness if I don’t consciously try to project pleasantness makes me the “lucky” one, then, because I am almost never chatted up in public. It’s a good thing I have a 10-megawatt smile to deploy when necessary, or nobody would ever talk to me.

  40. I’m glad to know I’m not the only person in the world who gets kind of freaked out when random people ask me what I’m reading.

    It’s not just the South, they do it in California and Colorado too.

  41. If you could do another piece on how to deflect oversharing in a work environment, that would be a tremendous help; I have a job that puts me in people’s homes and while I’m happy to hear that your chifferobe belonged to Great Aunt Nora and it is an antique requiring special care, I’m less interested in how your recently and sadly departed natural practitioner gave the BEST COLONICS EVER. Especially when this is followed with the hows and whys of that five-star assessment.

  42. Since folks often venture to these establishments for the express purposes of imposing themselves on strangers Young Adult fiction is often the best bet. Nothing thwarts this particular strain of breacher like the idea that you just might not be very well read.

    It does need to be mainstream YA, though. Fantasy and sci-fi will attract geeks fairly reliably. I’ve found that actual children’s literature works even better, in the absence of an obvious offspring unit to read it to. A 20-something-year-old reading Goodnight Moon results in everyone on the bus leaving you alone. :-) (It felt somehow subversive getting to read picture books for graduate credit…)

  43. Though my own experiences would prompt me to claim Italy as an exception to this?

    SO TRUE. I once spent 4 hours in a train compartment with an Italian nona telling me about her grandchildren before she realized a. that I was American and therefore probably not a good match for her handsome Giulio and b. that my italian is patchy and I was only catching every other word she said.

    Needless to say, she didn’t stop talking when she figured this out — she just talked louder. Ah, Italy.

  44. I usually have the unsolicited conversation while trying to read while I’m at work… I have gradually trained my coworkers to leave me alone though, usually with terse, one word answers followed by being really obvious about turning back to my book. Now I usually have an hour to myself during the day to read, and my only bane is the ‘overly friendly personal space violating new guy who is bored so I must be bored too’. It usually takes a couple of weeks to train them. Hey new guy, if you’re bored, bring in a book!

  45. Fantasy and sci-fi will attract geeks fairly reliably.

    In fact, one of my friends makes a point to read Robert Jordan, etc. on the subway, even though she hates fantasy and sci-fi and thinks it’s totally ridiculous. The reason? Because men will talk to her. (This was at the suggestion of a male friend, after she had been complaining that she never gets male attention.)

    But…talking to someone on the phone as a way to avoid social interaction?

    It doesn’t work for me either. I’m been spoken to and interrupted constantly when I’m on my cell. The worst situation was once when I was on the phone sobbing to my mother about something on a busy Manhattan street and these two teenagers from out of town literally came up to ME (out of like several hundred people) and were like, “Excuse me, how do you get to Grand Central?”

  46. I rely heavily on my iPod, my sunglasses, and my scowl. I can’t read in moving vehicles and I get sensory overload at airports and on planes, so I can’t concentrate on anything but music.

  47. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I read this essay, but it’s definitely worth a re-read. A fat woman makes a fake book cover with the title “Fat is Contagious: How Sitting Next to a Fat Person can make YOU Fat,” slips it over whatever she is reading, and observes the results on NYC public transportation.

    http://www.kimwrites.com/Fat_is_Contagious.html

  48. Scholarly journal articles work well, too, especially if read with highlighter in hand.

    If you enjoy history, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad is apparently off-putting as all hell, especially if held so that the title is clearly visible, thus deterring the “What’s that about?” questioners. (“Well, it’s about the 900-day-long siege of Leningrad.” *returns to reading*) Big thick books about the various WWII codebreakers also work nicely, although the title of The Man Who Broke Purple confuses people. Which can be a plus or a minus.

  49. It’s not just the South, they do it in California and Colorado too.

    I don’t recall suggesting such, but rather when I am in the South I don’t feel compelled to shut myself off the way in do in New England where I find the unwanted attention the most intrusive.

    Heh. I guess being tall, fat, and unadorable with a face that tends towards frowniness if I don’t consciously try to project pleasantness makes me the “lucky” one,

    I guess it does!

  50. Also, the problem increases tenfold if you sometimes like to sit at a bar and read, which I do.

    I love doing this. If I’m dining by myself (and I travel a lot for work, so I am frequently dining by myself), it’s a way to eat, feel semi-social, and not feel bad for taking up some poor waiter’s table. Also, I firmly believe that you can never have too many bartender friends.

    Honestly, because the bar is generally a more social place, I don’t mind people talking to me while I read there — but obviously, if you’re sending off I’M ENJOYING MY BOOK IN PEACE THANK YOU signals, you should be left alone!

  51. Very much enjoying the discussion of what books work to preserve SAUs (and the term as well). But some of the responses started me wondering: are these moves more effective if one is wearing an apparent wedding ring? Or are people just as likely to come up and start pestering one? (That may seem to be off-topic because it’s not a book, but I thought about it and decided to ask anyway because it’s still on-topic for avoiding unwanted conversation.)

  52. redlami said “I find reading technical manuals most effective”–yeah, engineer husband does this, especially in hospitals. It works pretty well.

    I’ve been known to collage a “new” cover onto paperbacks that might attract unwanted conversation–that bestseller my book club chose is no longer so noticeable without its distinctive or provocative cover art. (Bonus points if I can still make the new version relevant to the contents.) I also do this if I just don’t like the cover art for some reason–figuring that it’s my book, I can change it if I want to.

  53. But…talking to someone on the phone as a way to avoid social interaction? I don’t get it. (I mean, I sort of get it, you get to choose the person you talk to on the phone and presumably it would be someone who doesn’t annoy you, but still.)

    Firstly, it’s called SATIRE, people it’s not prescriptive. I even slow pitched it to ensure it could be easily processed.

    As for using the phone to avoid – stay with me – UNWANTED social engagement, yes, I usually talk to my mom or my partner.

    I know, reading comprehension is real hard sometimes, even for the smarties here.

    Hope this helps.

  54. Positively genius! This post is awesome.

    I need to come up with a list of books for avoiding strangers on the bus. Though I’ve found offensive titles generally do the trick. Pretentious literature apparently does not.

  55. But some of the responses started me wondering: are these moves more effective if one is wearing an apparent wedding ring?

    No.

    But I have a fake one anyways, because I cling to hope.

  56. I have found one place where people will generally leave each other alone: a therapist’s office. There’s something about being in a context that suggests “mental illness” that makes everyone mind their own damn business.

    Also true of the reproductive endocrinology (that is, infertility) clinic. It’s a sharp contrast to OB and pediatrician waiting rooms, where everyone wants to get chatty with you about the baaaaayyyybeee.

    I’m not sure that even attractive femalehood makes you public conversational property the way that pregnancy/childbirth/infancy does. I don’t know from personal experience how POC status intersects with that, so can’t speak to that, but I’ve been a cute young white woman, and I’ve been a mother. The quality of the interaction is often worse with the former, but the sheer quantity of the latter dwarfs it. I never used to have to budget an extra half-hour per store to be leered at, the way I did for people to coo over my babies. Admittedly, being a mother of multiples has significantly informed my experience here, but it was still pretty ridiculous with my singleton son. I’m not sure that reading a book entitled “GO THE FUCK AWAY, YES I MEAN YOU” would deflect the mommy-talk.

  57. Bitch magazine. It’s a remarkably effective wall; once in awhile someone will ask me about it, but the conversation usually dies a fast death as soon as the word “feminist” crosses my lips.

    Having people ask me about a specific book I’m reading doesn’t really bother me — I like talking about books — but having them then use that as an opening for their monologues about reading the latest John Grisham while in the hospital for their hemorrhoid surgery is more than a tad annoying.

  58. Noise canceling headphones even if I’m not listening to anything. I can pretend not to hear anyone asking if they bother to try. Sometimes I’ll bring along a dense virology book just to keep others at bay. Between the two, there is no breaching the force field.

  59. I still get people bothering me with a book in my hands and wearing HEADPHONES. Not tiny iPod earbuds, no. The big mofos that cover my entire ear and have positively delicious audio quality.

    The next person that interrupts me on the bus will get 60 seconds to hold my interest before I tell them to STFU and go away.

  60. I find reading technical manuals most effective — something with at least one acronym in the title, and nothing as mainstream as HTML. For example, “Understanding and Deploying LDAP Directory Services” to pull one title off my shelf. The only people inclined to want to chat about them would be other geeks who are most likely not interested in squandering any of their own limited SAUs.

    I’m fairly certain, I’d talk to you in public regardless of what you were reading, Babbycon.

  61. Having people ask me about a specific book I’m reading doesn’t really bother me — I like talking about books — but having them then use that as an opening for their monologues about reading the latest John Grisham while in the hospital for their hemorrhoid surgery is more than a tad annoying.

    My bestie Gigi and I took bets on how fast the first Grisham-as-a-pejorative would make the comments! And she won! Faster than I predicted. But then I am both a reader (and soon to be guest Blogger for Bitch) and a devotee of Grisham. I really love what he’s done for writers, namely giving non famous ones heaps of cash to pursue their craft.

    The kind of thing another writer can do only if they sell a lot of books and make a lot of cashmoney.

  62. I’m usually pretty social, but at concerts with a heavy fratty atmosphere (Phish, Widespread Panic, Metallica) where I’m not too interested with interacting with the people around me, I’ll bring whatever heavy reading I’m doing. Sometimes people will still be like “Hey, you’re reading, why are you doing that, this is a concert?” It’s the South, but if the tone is rude/indicative of a drunk asshole looking for some banter, I have no problem being like “because I want to?” and going on about my business.

  63. I rarely spend any significant amount of time in public alone. This is partially due to anxiety, partially due to “I would rather die than ride public transport in Pittsburgh” syndrome, and partially due to so rarely ever having time to go to any of our major cultural areas.
    Nonetheless, I have never had trouble with males talking to me, looking at me, regarding me in even the vaguest of ways – although I have seen other women being bothered, and will admit to having been rather scathing at the men bothering them.

    I do, however, get talked at by a lot of women, but it’s not much of a deal. What bothers me most is when I’ll interrupt my reading to offer someone my seat (I’ll do this for anyone in a pair if I’m sitting where two seats are together, anyone older than me or anyone much younger than me, and to anyone who comes in and there are limited seats. I’m fine standing, but most of them just walked however far to get to where I am, so I offer.): I offer them my seat, do the nice pleasantries, and sit down to start reading again, only to have a long drawn out conversation.

    Bleh.

  64. Oops. I did not mean to use Grisham as pejorative, just as an example of a Best Seller. Although I suppose invoking his name while referring to ass problems does suggest I’m not among his fans, doesn’t it?

  65. @Ashley! NO Christian reading in public! I am a divinity student and I learned the hard way not to do my homework in airports if I don’t want to hear 3 different people’s Personal Journey.

    (To which my mom replies . . . “Isn’t that what you’re going to school for?” I can be misanthropic if I wanna.)

  66. Young Adult fiction is often the best bet. Nothing thwarts this particular strain of breacher like the idea that you just might not be very well read.

    Alas, this has never worked for me – it merely provokes comments like, ‘You look too intelligent to be reading that crap,’ and demands that I explain why. I once even had a man follow me out of a bookshop and down the block arguing at me over my purchase of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. ‘That book is a joke!’ he kept saying, so I finally shouted at him, ‘And you’re a jackass!’ and he stopped.

    The best luck I’ve ever had was with Operation Animal Mutilation: Report of the District Attorney, First District, State of New Mexico. Which surprised me, because I thought when I pulled it out of my carry-on that I was in for it – my husband and I had been separated on the plane, I’d be stuck next to a man who quickly showed signs of being very chatty, and it seemed to me to be one of those intrinsically sensationalistic subjects everyone would want to talk about. But instead it shut him right up in mid-sentence: ‘What are you read – Oh.’

  67. Reading Justice Scalia tends to make libs leave me alone. Since in most cases I don’t really have time or the desire to be their educational opportunity. It’s good reading too, especially if you don’t like him. He’s a great writer. I can’t hate a playa only the game.

    I think the YA probably works for me because I look extremely young for my age (always have and probably always will). I suppose that should probably be factored in. Or I look rather unintelligent, which considering the circumstances is perfectly fine with me.

  68. I’m also a fan of reading in bars, and it really doesn’t matter what you’re reading, people will talk to you. I get it when I’m reading something obviously light and silly like “My Custom Van” (hilarious! and it has an intriguing title), but last weekend I was reading “The Origins of the Arab Israeli Wars” which is just as dull as it sounds and several people were like, “So, what are the origins of the Arab Israeli wars?” (Don’t know yet, still reading the book) or “Are you reading that for a class?” (Nope, not in school). And so many people ask me why I’m reading in a bar. Every time. Um, because I like drinking and I like reading. Now can I get back to it?

  69. Oops. I did not mean to use Grisham as pejorative, just as an example of a Best Seller. Although I suppose invoking his name while referring to ass problems does suggest I’m not among his fans, doesn’t it?

    It’s okay. It’s our thing. We always wager about this and usually I lose.

  70. I’m also a fan of reading in bars, and it really doesn’t matter what you’re reading, people will talk to you.

    I pretty much reserve bars for drinking, booty popping and doing karaoke. It has never occurred to me to bring a book. Though I sometimes bring my laptop if I want to write between my karaoke sets.

  71. How did this discussion make it so far without Marquis de Sade’s 120 days of sodom being mentioned??

  72. I forgot to mention it, but the ‘SAU’ is brilliant – a term I’ve needed for a long, long time.

  73. I was browsing at the bookstore the other day because one of the books I’m allowed to buy myself was out and I was looking for it, when I saw a book by Dave Cullen on Columbine. I picked it up to read the back and then remembered I was wearing a long black coat and Docs. Perhaps not the best outfit to wear while perusing that particular volume.

    Oddly, people rarely approach me when I read in public. I think I’m just scary.

  74. Heh. I guess being tall, fat, and unadorable with a face that tends towards frowniness if I don’t consciously try to project pleasantness makes me the “lucky” one,

    I guess it does!

    What the heck?

  75. Blerg. Every time this subject comes up, I am deeply, deeply grateful for not being a total chatty-stranger magnet. I can feel my batteries draining after a prolonged direction-giving session with a stranger. Whenever I see print or online laments from chatty-stranger people, bemoaning the rise of technology that lets their victims potential friends ignore them more easily, my heart goes out to the unwilling people these folks zero in on habitually.

  76. I had never thought to use book repellent to help myself! (I have very limited SAU’s, too…strangers exhaust me.) I noticed their effectiveness on a very, very bumpy flight when I started praying, “Please don’t let this plane go down and kill me off clutching the hand of this guy next to me who has spent the last 4 hours completely absorbed in the newest hardcover from Glenn MotherF*in’ Beck!”

  77. I actually mostly read to keep myself from being too bored so I start bothering other people. No one usually bothers me on the train or bus (I mean everyone is commuting so no one wants to chat.) I mostly get bothered while walking from place to place and while I am quite good at reading and walking I am unlikely to receive fewer comments as a result of that.

    Last night I totally failed at harnessing my desire to bother total strangers and interrupted a conversation where this college kid was telling this other college kid about how he shouldn’t go into marketing because of all the cold calling. At which point my ability to not speak to total strangers on the train was completely negated by the amount of TOTALL BULSLHIT he was telling this kid about future potential career paths. Let that be a lesson, don’t be full of shit while on the same train car as me.

  78. If a book existed that was called “I’m needy and want to be married” that would probably do the job in keeping most men at arm’s length.

    Definitely!

    This post seriously made me lol. Although there’s apparently something about my face that causes people to assume I’m angry when I’m not so if anything, I just ending up hearing “smile!” from “well-meaning” guys in passing. When I used to take the bus, I’d make a point of pulling out a book, any book, or my cell phone and that seemed to decrease the number of attacks.

    Libras, on the other hand, are always trying to be “nice” to other people, and many of the Libras who happen to be entitled men just cannot understand why someone would NOT want to talk to them.

    That’s my ex to a T.

  79. I’m with the people that use the book/headphones combination. I’m currently living in a state that has a fairly high chatty-stranger population, and I ride the bus a lot. I tend to find that sunglasses, iPod headphones, and my Kindle work well at building my “leave me alone!” armor. However, be warned: the pro of a Kindle is that it looks odd from a distance and nobody can see the title. The con is that people are occasionally inclined to ask “Whatcha reading?” or “Oooooh, is that a Kindle?” Around here I am the only person I have EVER seen with a Kindle, so people find it odd enough to just not ask, but this has backfired spectacularly on planes.

    The headphones are really the key. Don’t turn them on if you don’t want; just have something visibly anchored in your ears. I used this in my multi-person grad student office *all the time*; sometimes they actually are on, to block out annoying conversation, but they’re just as likely to be off and simply serving as a “leave me alone” signal. I’ve even managed to successfully ignore the annoying folks who go “Puck! Puck! Hey, Puck!” under the auspices of “my music is just so darn loud/I am so darn focused.” If they have LOLcats or a webcomic to show me, they’ll usually shut up. If they have an actual important question, they’ll get louder or wave at me, and then I can pretend to notice them.

    Call it manipulative, but hey, MY SAUs! MINE!

  80. What the heck?

    Lu and Meghan:

    It is typically my policy not to co-sign or dignify with a response passive aggressive statements. Out of curiosity what would have been your response?

    this: Heh. I guess being tall, fat, and unadorable with a face that tends towards frowniness if I don’t consciously try to project pleasantness makes me the “lucky” one,

    Scans as passive aggressive and thus gets that sort of response from me. Also the person clearly did not read the part when I said I didn’t much have interest in folks feeling my experiences render me “lucky” and this is just a variation on that theme.

    Now, let’s move on.

  81. I was reading a novel by the great Algerian writer Assia Djebar in one of those loooong security lines at the airport not long after 9/11. I finally had to put it away after this conversation:

    he: What’s it about?
    me: It’s a novel.
    he: But what it’s about?
    me: Well, I’m just getting started, but so far it’s about a filmmaker and her marriage.
    he: But what it’s about?

    lather, rinse, repeat, until he finally asked what she thought about the veil and terrorism. Seriously. Because that’s all she’s allowed to write about, I guess.

  82. I know the whole “annoying strangers” things tends to work out differently for women than it does for men. Also, I’m Irish, and think that acknowledging fellow travellers with a “Hi” is polite behaviour, though this need not lead to a conversation. It might, and when it does, that’s nice. When it doesn’t, return to your novel.

    When I read, I tune out the world, and often might not even notice someone talking to me. If someone asks what I’m reading (which used to happen a lot in school; almost never these days), I’ll angle the book so they can see the cover. I won’t reply, stop reading, or even make eye contact.

    I like my books. Mainly Pratchett these days, as I want to read the entire Discworld series before the next Con, which is in Birmingham in August.

    ***

    I shortly intend to buy some books on web application security. I wonder what effect they’ll have?

    TRiG.

  83. Oh, and books on astrology would certainly put me off. I know that I’m unable to avoid getting into debates with nutters, so I’d avoid conversation altogether.

    TRiG.

  84. @Valerian It’s also Oregon, as I’ve had the dubious pleasure of discovering. What’s strange is that back in VA I was talked to every time I left the house, but usually it was very innocuous (but annoying) conversations about the weather or the kind of ice-cream I was buying and as soon as I turned away it was over (I’m not counting the cat-calling). Here the random-stranger conversations happen less often, but when they do it seems to be some variation on “Aw, poor girl doesn’t know what she’s doing. I must correct her!” Whether it’s the book I’m reading, the puzzle I’m solving, or just staring into space (“Are you trying to meditate? You should close your eyes.”) I seem to be a mansplainer magnet.

  85. One of my good friends who is a therapist said after reading this thread, “You know, people who scoff at the idea of this are probably the same people who force others to use books to avoid interactions.”

    Which gave me quite a pause.

  86. I know the whole “annoying strangers” things tends to work out differently for women than it does for men.

    Yes. Men tend to be the annoying strangers.

  87. If a book existed that was called “I’m needy and want to be married” that would probably do the job in keeping most men at arm’s length.

    This is why I travel with a copy of Martha Stewart Weddings in my briefcase. I discovered that it’s a far more effective way to maintain silence with (male) seatmates on long plane rides than “I don’t speak English,” which is my other fallback.

    (Not to knock on Martha! I’m a fan of DIY prettyness, and Martha is the Queen.)

  88. “Heh. I guess being tall, fat, and unadorable with a face that tends towards frowniness if I don’t consciously try to project pleasantness makes me the “lucky” one,”

    Scans as passive aggressive and thus gets that sort of response from me. Also the person clearly did not read the part when I said I didn’t much have interest in folks feeling my experiences render me “lucky” and this is just a variation on that theme.

    Whoa whoa whoa. “The person” reads just fine. I think we’re both having trouble understanding each other, since in my head that was meant to be commiserating and sarcastic, not passive aggressive. As in, yes, we are both so “lucky” in our respective situations, isn’t it great when people tell us that? I am so lucky to be ignored or outright avoided in public – it’s like there’s no downside to having a nonstandard body shape and a non-girly haircut!

    And I’m just as sick of folks implying that the reason I don’t get bothered much in public is my obvious non-cuteness. As if being harassed is a compliment I don’t deserve. The truth is I don’t know why I tend not to be bothered much, but I generally assume it has something to do with the above-mentioned tallness, fatness, and non- adorableness. But who knows! Perhaps I smell bad or emit harmful radiation.

    Am I making sense? I obviously haven’t mastered the whole Writing For The Internet thing so I’m really sorry if I’m coming across badly.

  89. Whoa whoa whoa. “The person” reads just fine. I think we’re both having trouble understanding each other, since in my head that was meant to be commiserating and sarcastic, not passive aggressive.

    No, I understood. It seems you are merely embarrassed that I did.

  90. Seconding the applause for the coining of “SAU.”

    Software-related textbooks and nice-industry magazines have worked well. Also: using a sketchbook was a busybody magnet until I got older; now it makes me look like the creepy lady on the bus. Which is fine.

  91. *I mean it doesn’t matter what my intentions were, since it’s my responsibility not to come across as a jerk, which I failed. Sorry again, really shutting up now.

  92. Awesome post. Try being adorable, and having an adorable husband and child. Now imagine us as a Cub Scout and leaders, all in uniform at the donut shop early one Saturday morning. Ugh, I thought one guy in particular was going to follow us home and move in with us. It was so nice to be left alone after our cute little boy turned into a hairy, scary teenager. He’s about to turn 18 and he’s getting cute again, help me. Books don’t work when you’re out with a group.

  93. ButtonGwinnett: I bet “I don’t speak English” just gets one a lot of REALLLLY SLOOOOOW LOOOOUUUUUUUDDDDDDDD (or just loud) conversation. Cause, you know, speaking to a Foreign Person is both a Cultural Experience and a Nice Thing To Do. You learn something multicultural AND school someone on the wonders of America. Amirite?

  94. “One of my good friends who is a therapist said after reading this thread, “You know, people who scoff at the idea of this are probably the same people who force others to use books to avoid interactions.””

    Entirely probable. The written laments I’ve seen about how we’re all slaves to tiny little machines and nobody talks to anybody out in public anymore and this is a giant problem have yet to devote so much as a clause to the possibility that the people with their noses in kindles and buds jammed in their ear canals all while talking on a cellphone might not want to interact with strangers and find their gadgets a welcome alternative to doing so.

  95. To anyone who dislikes strangers speaking to them, I have a handy tip. Simply move to London, UK, and smile warmly at passing people. This will guarantee your isolation faster than a t-shirt stating “I exhale Bubonic Plague”. Simple!

  96. Oddly enough bff who’s a doctor often reads Michael Crichton (who was also a doctor RIP) to avoid having patients bum rush him at the grocery store. He gets panicky because folks don’t always have decorum and have no problem dishing their various boils, blisters and bunions while he’s selecting fresh fruit or taking his girlfriend to get her car washed.

  97. This is great! I will try some of your book suggestions, as I have limited SAUs and tend to choose VERY poorly in terms of stranger repelling books.

    Case in point: Years ago I ducked into the airport bookstore and bought a vampire novel by an author I’d never heard of, Laurel K. Hamilton. I can’t remember the title, but it was the one where the main character goes out West to help her bounty-hunter friend, and it’s apparently quite different from the rest of the series as it doesn’t have much sex. Because I wasn’t familiar with the series, I COULD NOT understand why my weirdo seat-mate kept shooting me suggestive looks while asking if I was enjoying my book. I actually called my sister (who works in a mystery bookstore) when I got off the plane to ask what was up!

    Apparently those books are read mostly by women, but this guy knew enough to assume that I was reading a porny book and that porny book = slutty reader. Thanks for your ASSumptions and I’m really glad you got on a connecting flight to far far away!

  98. Oh, and books on astrology would certainly put me off. I know that I’m unable to avoid getting into debates with nutters, so I’d avoid conversation altogether.

    Wow, really? Really?

  99. or just staring into space (“Are you trying to meditate? You should close your eyes.”) I seem to be a mansplainer magnet.

    Is it possible to LOL and *headdesk* at the same time? ‘cuz I think I just did.

    Comic books have actually worked better for me than any other type of book (with large feminist tomes being a close second), but that was probably mostly to do with where I read those and the typical audience make up of those places.

  100. Oh, and books on astrology would certainly put me off. I know that I’m unable to avoid getting into debates with nutters, so I’d avoid conversation altogether.

    Mischief managed, then.

  101. I love Erika Lopez. Love love love. I find that “Lap Dancing For Mommy” is particularly repellant to Chatters. But I’m also scary….so double-win there.

  102. So I looked up razor Wire pubic hair, which looks awesome and Amazon suggested this: “Rampaging Fuckers on the Crazy Shitting Plant of Vomit Atmosphere” which seems like another great title to keep away the “nice chatty people”. Anyone tried it?

  103. Fantastic post, Snarky’s! I have to admit I’m kinda in love with you now for mentioning both “Sooner or Later” AND “Dinkie Hocker Shoots Smack.” Have you read the sequel to “Sooner or Later?” This brings back such warm memories of my early adolescence.

  104. Great post! Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” works well too – esp. when you’re dressed all black.

  105. Oh, and books on astrology would certainly put me off. I know that I’m unable to avoid getting into debates with nutters, so I’d avoid conversation altogether.

    Hey, everyone has his/her own beliefs and not everyone who is interested in astrology is all freaky n’ flaky, you know. It always amuses me that the people who knock it know nothing about it. Just sayin’.

  106. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. Completely fascinating book, but nobody wants to ask about it. Even the kids leave me alone when I’ve got that book in my hand!

  107. I had people actually MOVE AWAY from me when I was reading “The Private Lives of Dying Children” on the train. It’s a medical anthropology study of a pediatric leukemia ward in the late 1970′s.

  108. I seriously LOVE me some John Grisham (he donated to my spouse’s campaign!)

    Before the advent of ubiquitous earbuds, I found that singing loudly and off-key was a good way to get people to leave you alone. Nowadays, not so much.

    Knitting, OTOH, is a sure-fire conversation starter, so don’t do it if you don’t want company.

  109. I mentioned Exquisite Corpse in the other version of this, I also had some good stranger repellent with Hanne Blank’s Virgin: The Untouched History. Sadly, I don’t own a copy of Virgin so that hasn’t had enough field testing.

    Any scholarly and dry looking tome about the War on Drugs is a big hit for getting people to avoid you, especially if you look about as “straight edge” as they come. Most white dudes in redneckia don’t want to have an intelligent conversation that challenges their “Law & Order” view of the criminal justice system. Generally I’m happy to have a conversation that closely mimics the lyrics to “Where Corn Don’t Grow” with my rural friends, but where we part ways on issues leads to screaming matches best not hosted at the DMV.

    I’ve learned that indulging in Allen Ginsberg in public brings out all the wanna-beats and English majored doods who feel the need to sound off about how fucking smart they are. Seriously, if I’d wanted that, I could have stayed in college and, you know, majored in English. The thick air of dudely expertise is what turned me the fuck off of almost every lit class I took. (That and we never read anything written by a woman, I’m so fucking sick of Hemingway I could vomit.) Anyway, even if you have a soul yearning to time travel and be a certain Beat author’s secret boyfriend, don’t trot them out unless you want to listen to strange men yammer.

    I think I was born in the wrong country, I just don’t feel right talking to people I don’t know. Especially people listening to any music or reading, I just take these to be universal signs that one is not looking to converse.

  110. TRiG: I know the whole “annoying strangers” things tends to work out differently for women than it does for men. Also, I’m Irish, and think that acknowledging fellow travellers with a “Hi” is polite behaviour, though this need not lead to a conversation. It might, and when it does, that’s nice. When it doesn’t, return to your novel.

    You’re Irish and male. Among men, yes, it is polite – and men also think it’s polite to do it to women, even women who are reading a book and not looking up. That’s not quite the same as what you originally said, though.

    I’ll gloss over the whole “nutters” thing because really. Well, really.

  111. grogette: Comic books have actually worked better for me than any other type of book (with large feminist tomes being a close second), but that was probably mostly to do with where I read those and the typical audience make up of those places.

    Hehe – yes. I read horror comics on planes. It’s the only time I read them (I have to pace myself – I’m fine with horror books & movies but have a theory that the comics give you both scope for the imagination AND the visual vocabulary), and although it works to keep people away it is also because I look nice and dignified and like messing with people.

    But usually I sketch in public which has mixed results. It freaks some people out, others come over to watch, and it lets me talk to them if I want to, or just keep drawing and saying “mmhmm” if I don’t until they get bored. I also had some security guards in an airport take my sketchbook off me and pass it around among themselves for general comment, so that was… interesting.

  112. Any scholarly and dry looking tome about the War on Drugs is a big hit for getting people to avoid you, especially if you look about as “straight edge” as they come.

    Any favorites? I am looking to get into a doorstopper to keep in the car.

  113. Oh, and books on astrology would certainly put me off. I know that I’m unable to avoid getting into debates with nutters, so I’d avoid conversation altogether.

    This and others scoffing at the titles are HILARIOUS. Um, hi the point is to keep people away and the scoffing at titles means we are being successful.

    Duh.

  114. People would walk by, do a double take, and then veer away from me when I was reading The God Delusion at the bus stop. Good times.

  115. Other than Dan Baum’s Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure I can’t remember titles because I always checked them out from the library. Baum’s book I had to order used to read it, and I’m constantly pushing my copy into people’s hands. If I could find a send up of addiction related “cure evangelism” half as good, I’d be happier than a pig in shit.

    I remember there was one edited by Jesse Ventura, I can’t remember if I read that one. The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War. IIRC that one was a collection of essays with a focus more on economics and policy than social impact. I wish I could remember the one with the yellow cover that broke down the criminalization of drug users by looking at how the methods used correlated to other oppressions. Since so much of the War on Drugs is about criminalizing POC, I found it especially apt. I’ll keep searching, since that one did briefly touch upon addiction and mandatory recovery as well. I think I checked it out in Florida, I hope the library has an online search function still.

  116. I have to admit that I am sometimes guilty of chatting people up this way. But I’m a born and raised Tennessean so maybe that accounts for some of it? Regardless, I LOVE the book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. I consider it the best thing to come out of my World Civ class in college, and one of the best “academic” books I have ever read, period.

  117. I think that the foreign language one only works because people assume that if you’re reading it, you must speak that language and possibly not English. I speak Korean, and a white person who speaks Korean is enough of an oddity that it must be commented on (Especially if you do it within eyeshot of a Korean person, but that probably goes without saying).

    Also if you are a soldier and you travel in uniform, there is no polite way to protect your bubble. There is an unspoken rule that goes “Soldiers are Everyone’s Bestie.” People can’t resist telling you about their military service or their son who is in Iraq or that you are too young to be in the military and your mama should have never let you enlist.

    That being said, when I wear nondescript traveling clothes and curl up in my narrow, uncomfy airplane seat with some Grafton or Grisham or Robb, I’m generally good.

  118. Other than Dan Baum’s Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure I can’t remember titles because I always checked them out from the library.

    This sounds like a must read. I am definitely going to seek it out at the library. Thanks for the recommendation. I need something meaty to pair with my critique of “New Jack City”. I’m not even being funny! I have been sifting through a couple of unsatisfying books looking for something like the Baum book! You’ve saved me some serious legwork.

    But I’m a born and raised Tennessean so maybe that accounts for some of it?

    I actually get giddy when a Southerner chats me up here in New England. It makes me homesick, though I should point out I’m actually a Yankee.

  119. Oh, and also earphones are a must for uninterrupted public transportation because then people generally won’t talk to you and if they do, you can always pretend not to hear them. The best is reading with earphones in.

  120. Something I realized no one has ever bugged me about is books about food. Right now I’m reading Food of a Younger Land, which is an awesome book about the US regional food culture that existed in the 1930′s. I’m continually surprised that everyone doesn’t spend every waking minute thinking and talking about food like I do (not in a deprived way, but in a “what delicious thing can I cook/bake/fry/eat/devour next” way), but maybe people think a title like that means I’m going to start preaching health food at them?

  121. JD Robb – pen name Nora Roberts used to break into the mystery genre. I like the futuristic setting and the female characters are varied and interesting.

  122. I’m usually so loaded down with necessary stuff when I’m on public transport — umbrella, water bottle, book, music device, shopping — that there’s no way I’d ever bother bringing along a scarecrow book just to deflect attention. I do use headphones and read a book, but I very much do NOT want to get embroiled in a discussion of my reading material. After being burned so many times, I just refuse to engage; in a pinch, I can convincingly pretend not to speak English. I’ve had my nose stuck in a book since I was three years old, and I hate hate HATE it when people interrupt me to ask what I’m reading (“It’s called a book, surely you’ve heard of them!”). My tastes are eclectic, to say the least.

    I have several fabric covers that are sized perfectly for paperbacks, and I always use them. Keeps the books clean and undamaged, and completely hides the titles and cover art, and I have never been interrupted when I was using one of them. If I’m reading a hardcover of my own, I take off the paper dust jacket and just carry the naked book; most people won’t read a title on the spine of a book. I’m gonna talk my Mom into stitching up a fabric cover sized for hardbacks, because that’ll be good for library books that have non-detachable dust jackets, too.

  123. The one thing you must never do if you want to avoid conversation in public spaces is read a book that has been adapted into a popular movie. Or a book by Stephen King. (Same thing)

    Also if it’s a “classic” people will of course feel the need to tell you about how they were supposed to read that senior year in high school, but they didn’t.

    And for some odd reason, Christopher Moore titles never seem to get commented on when I read them. Except for in middle school when some high school kid who rode my bus felt the need to giggle creepily and ask me if I actually knew what the word “lust” meant. YMMV, actually I’m sure, YMWillV, though.

  124. Love this post! It’s wonderful and very useful! Thanks for all the great advice and book titles!

    I think the “I don’t speak English” would work really well if said in English. I plan to use that.

    Dr. Seuss and Sesame Street books don’t seem to work well I”m afraid, or they haven’t for me anyway. Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking seems to work though and I’ve found that
    big classical volumes like Ulysses, any greek tragedy or classical play–Billy Shakes included, War and Peace, works by Evelyn Waugh etc.. they all seem to work too to keep people away. Oh, and you never know when a old Club Kid wannabe or used2b will turn up, so anything Party Monster isn’t a great choice either. However, books by Annie Sprinkle work great! (and they’re kick-ass fun to read!)

    I’d like a book title like “The sucking blackhole of need and how to kill them”, except if I saw a title like that I’d be overjoyed and just have to ask the person who the author was so I could run out and buy it! So maybe that wouldn’t work out so good after all.

  125. I inadvertently discovered a really good one when I was studying on the subway. See, I’m a medical student, and at one point, I had to take Gross Anatomy.

    If you want to have two seats to yourself on a crowded subway, whip out a set of photographic anatomy flashcards–featuring photos of dissected cadaver bits–and nobody will sit next to you. Promise.

  126. “I have several fabric covers that are sized perfectly for paperbacks, and I always use them. Keeps the books clean and undamaged, and completely hides the titles and cover art, and I have never been interrupted when I was using one of them.”

    I just ordered a trade-paperback-size one via Etsy the other day, so this is great to hear. I think it should nicely disguise The History of Sexuality and other books I wish not to be spotted reading by other members of my temple congregation. :-p

  127. JD Robb – pen name Nora Roberts used to break into the mystery genre. I like the futuristic setting and the female characters are varied and interesting.

    Okay. Thanks. I will check these out.

  128. Um, about Europe being less of a talking-to-strangers region – can we please stop generalising about ‘Europe’ as if it’s a homogenous culture? There are huge differences between, say, Norway and Albania, or Ireland and Romania. In my experience, one is likely to be left in peace in public places in Scandinavia, UK and Ireland, but in Western Europe there seems to be a shift somewhere around Brussels. North of Brussels, I’ve rarely been approached by people in a way that made me uncomfortable. South of Brussels, it’s basically marriage proposals from random guys on the street. I’ve had similar experiences in some mediterranean countries. Can’t say much about Eastern or Central Europe as I’ve only been to a few countries there.

  129. I’m Irish, and think that acknowledging fellow travellers with a “Hi” is polite behaviour, though this need not lead to a conversation.

    I think I phrased this badly. If I’m sitting alone on a train, in a place with four seats at a table, it’s unusual for someone to sit down opposite without asking “Are these seats free?” And I’ll do the same before sitting at someone else’s table. (I live in the middle of the line, so I often have to sit at someone else’s table.)

    You say “Hi” to people. Or at least you nod. This really really doesn’t have to lead to conversation. Often, it doesn’t. Usually, it doesn’t. If there’s a little eye contact, it might. But I have a book to read too: I won’t push. That’s rude.

    TRiG.

  130. I’m surprised any of these work. In my experience, only the Bible is consistently effective. I suppose that people who believe it don’t want to interrupt your studies, and those who do not don’t want to become the object of your potential prosthelytizing. Fortunately, fake leather covers embossed with crosses and the like are readily available in the size to fit whatever you’d like to read.

    Do not laugh while reading a Bible. It upsets people.

  131. @Snarky’s Machine: My point (which I know that you got, I’m just clarifying) was that speaking about one’s experience in specific countries such as, say, Norway, Albania, Ireland and Romania is different from speaking about how it is in “Europe” based on having visited some European countries. It wasn’t directed at you in particular, it’s just something I see over and over again.

  132. BTW, I think I will have to conduct some book experiments of my own. Not that people bother me anyway, but it might be interesting to see which titles draw some sort of attention. I just have to find a café that’s open past 5 PM…

  133. AnthroK8: Cause, you know, speaking to a Foreign Person is both a Cultural Experience and a Nice Thing To Do. You learn something multicultural AND school someone on the wonders of America. Amirite?

    Once, just once, I got away with saying “I’m from Britain; I don’t speak English”*. I think I short-circuited their brain.

    I find that there is nothing guaranteed to keep people away from me. Nothing will stop a determined man from talking to me – which brings us back to the whole “men refuse to read body language when it does not suit them to do so”. It doesn’t matter how esoteric my book, how severe my expression, how unfriendly my body language – if they want to talk to me, neither ear phones nor pretending to be asleep will deter them.

    But I haven’t tried some of the titles above, so I’m going to experiment! :)

    *(OT anecdote: One of the women at my husband’s office asked where I was from – I’m from the UK, I live in the US now – and when told, said “wow, she speaks English really well!”.)

  134. Grafton — I think that only works with Christian Bibles, though. Jewish ones attract all sorts of commentary…though interestingly, in my case none of it has been Christian proselytizers. Partly I’m sure it’s that I just don’t live in a heavily evangelical area, and partly I suspect they’re intimidated at the thought that I could argue with them in the original Hebrew. ;-)

  135. @Grafton & Sarah,
    I actually have had people try to chat me up when reading the (christian) bible before. It was always thumpers who wanted to make sure I was a twu believer and really saved, yadda yadda. One of the comic books I read recently that got me no interruptions from anyone was Garth Ennis’s Preacher. I think that’s because if you aren’t already familiar with the series it looks like a glorified and glossy Chick Tract :)

    @laura m “Nothing will stop a determined man from talking to me”
    oh agreed. There’s no stopping those guys unfortunately but some books can definitely ward off other strangers who’d otherwise waste your SAUs.

  136. laura m: I’d love to say I am shocked SHOCKED at the cluelessness of some Americans, but alas, I am not. I am, however, vastly amused at your stories! I hope, if you drink, that you get lots of free ones from people when you visit the homeland with those treasures to share.

  137. Books about the bubonic plague – or other pandemics – work wonders. The Children’s Blizzard occasionally sparks comment, but an enthusiastic explanation of how hundreds of kids froze to death trying to walk home from school in 1888 tends to make them back away slowly. Shame, really, because it’s a fascinating book which is as much about the naivete of immigrants to the Midwest during that time period as it is about the freak storm.

    During my brief foray into graduate studies, I found that responding to “what are you reading/what is that about?” with “I have no idea, but it stretches my brain in interesting ways.” worked really well. And I wasn’t kidding.

    Also, any how-to book about the writing process will keep people from bugging you because they are almost certain you will want to tell them about the novel you’re writing. And if they don’t back away, you can actually tell them about the novel you’re writing, and they will flee. So will any friends or family members. ;)

  138. @certainlynotrosemary

    I had a vet student for a housemate for a few years, great fun for many reasons, and vet texts (and vet discussions) are excellent for keeping people away. She and her friends used to come into the city centre and ride up lifts in office buildings talking about infectious diseases just to see how many people would get out early. Although we disconcerted some police who came to our house after my car was stolen – I completely forgot there was a dog skull on top of the tv.

  139. One of the most baffling bus rides of my life: I was attempting to read a really dense book assigned for a class I was taking– something I could only get through about five pages of in an hour– and some dude sat down beside me and said, “Oh, Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory! I remember reading that for the first time,” talked to/at me for the next half hour while I tried to read, and tried to get my e-mail before getting off the bus. Nice enough guy, but I counted on that half hour for homework.

    I have had good luck with Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain and Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, though. If someone tries to talk to me on the bus now, I say, “I have 40 minutes to get my lesson plan done, and I’m going to need it all.”

  140. I love these suggestions! My favorite in high school was this ancient 70s tract called “The Case for Mandatory Birth Control”–a title that, when combined with a steely glare, will repel anyone bold enough to ask, “Watcha reading?”

    Recently I was doing reading for a feminist theory class at the train station. The guy used the mere fact that I was reading as conversation fodder: “So, you like books? Are you a book reader?” Finally, he glanced over at the title. His eyebrows jumped about a foot.

    “Well, uh, I’ll just leave you to your Radicalesbians,” he said.

    VICTORY.

  141. I am so totally buying a new book today and taking myself out to dinner and sitting at the bar and reading tonight.

    Also, I didn’t think I could possibly like Snarky’s Machine more than I already did, but I was wrong.

  142. I’ve had good luck with “Physics of the Impossible” by Michio Kaku. It’s a discussion of the research/possiblities of a bunch of sci-fi tech like phasers and time travel. Even stuck in Heathrow airport with thousands of people yesterday, nobody bothered me at all while I was reading it. I also like it for in public reading because you can read the chapters in any order, and don’t have to remember where you were. “Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea” by Charles Seife is good too. It’s the history of the number zero and how it changed math and the world. Both of these are light paperbacks, which I find advantageous when it comes to running through airports.

  143. Sorry about the double post, I accidentally deleted my second paragraph.

    Hard science and math work well, as long as you avoid any title with “evolution” in it while in heavily fundamentalist areas. Then you get preached at about how everything you’re reading is wrong and the work of the devil, and that burns up my SAUs faster than a random conversation about the weather. I suspect that a global warming title might have the same problem, but I haven’t tried that.

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