Dysfunctional Literacy’s “Five Tips to Reading Safely” Addresses a major American Public Health Threat that is too often ignored–Reading Safety. I thought it would be to the Good of the Nation if I expanded on a an important Point on which I have some expertise–Ambulated Reading.
You’ve heard about it in the news, presented as a possible solution to the obesity epidemic weighing our health system down. You’ve seen around town scraggles of book-smacked people narrowly avoiding streetlights. Practitioners of Ambulated Reading (or, “reading while walking,” as it’s colloquially known) come in all shapes, sizes, colours, ages, and genre affiliations. It’s the healthful phenomenon brooming the nation, but it’s undeniable that Ambulated Reading presents significant difficulties for the novice. Unfortunately, everyone starts out that way. It is my humble hope that this guide will result in fewer twisted ankles, fewer conversations started, fewer deaths, and above all, more reading done.
Swing your legs in slight curves as you walk, such that any obstruction will be struck by the instep, not the toe. Do not raise your feet high of the ground. It is almost a shuffle. Go slowly. You’ll see mainly with your peripheral vision, so precess slightly to take in more of your surroundings. Glance up when needed. This will swiftly become as unconscious as blinking.
Only walk along streets with raised sidewalks. If the sidewalk is not clearly delineated from the street, you may walk into the street without realizing it, whereas, if the curb is raised, stepping off it will startle you to attention.
Driveways are at an incline, such that it’s easy to drift downhill toward the street. At the bottom and end of the driveway, there is often a mailbox. Mailboxes often have wooden protrusions at chest height that strike painfully. As you cross an inclined driveway, lean uphill, so that you will not drift down.
Walking with your eyes closed:
This is great training for Ambulated Reading. Open your eyes while crossing the street, no matter how sure you are that you’ve got the walk signal. You’ll feel like a yellow-bellied coward, but it’s better than being hit by a car. If, after 40 minute or so, you begin crying, and your inner monologue turns into a guttural whine, don’t be ashamed. This is perfectly normal, and you may open your eyes.
Reading while walking a dog:
Every little tug, normally of no account, will distract you from your reading, causing you to be angry at the dog. These unrealistic standards of sedate walking will only frustrate you, and your imprecations will make your dog feel inadequate. I recommend against reading while walking the dog. You may however bring a book with you and stop to read at a convenient bench or shaded curb.
Bumping into solid objects:
Streetlights and sign posts are not significant problems. The book will hit them first, meaning your face will not. Fire hydrants are at a more uncomfortable height. Invest in a cup. Be very careful of sharp ended plants, such as roses and yuccas. If you have a bad encounter with a yucca, get a tetanus shot. Learn where the neighborhood yuccas are. Pack tweezers. Mailboxes have already been discussed.
Bumping into people:
This happens very seldom. Other people will see you and get out of the way. If you notice them, do not acknowledge their presence. They may speak to you. If they speak to you without provocation, replying with a mumbled “preguhubuya” is usually sufficient. If you’re asked what you’re reading, tilt the cover fractionally toward the questioner, and say “nothing very interesting.” Do not look up or stop reading. This settles it.
On those rare occasions that you bump into a human, it will usually be a fellow reader. Some see this as an opportunity to meet like minded people, but I feel it interrupts the reading.
Dogs are furrier than most people. If you meet one, lower your book and introduce yourself. If the dog has an owner with it, don’t make eye contact, or it may speak to you.
If you notice a cat sitting on a driveway, lie on the driveway, not too close to it, and in a place where you’ll not be run over. Read. The cat will or won’t come to you.
Lower the book, look both ways, and cross the street. Do not resume reading until you have reached the other side. Do not read while crossing the street EVEN IF THERE IS A CROSSWALK AND WALK SIGNAL. This is actually more dangerous than crossing unmarked residential streets. Consider that many drivers will have been reading at the red light. This is as understandable as it is regrettable–Vonnegut is hard to put down– but often they are not fully re-engaged with driving for several seconds. Further, consider how easy it is to wander outside the crosswalk without realizing it. NO ONE WILL PROTECT YOU BUT YOU.
Joining a club:
Some do. I don’t. Neither should you.
Listening to audio books:
You could do this. Or you could have standards.
Buy a large umbrella, of the sort that the Penguin used to kill Batman. If it is too windy, the umbrella will not suffice to keep the wet off your book, so you’d best stay inside.
Move to California.
Recreational vs Situational Ambulated Reading:
Perhaps there is a book store within walking distance, and, having purchased a book, you read the first chapter on the walk home. The vast majority of Americans have engaged in such “situational” Ambulated Reading. I myself have done it. But it is a waste of time. People read more slowly while walking, and walk more slowly while reading (meaning that a given route takes longer to complete, and during that length, you will be reading slowly.) It more efficient to walk to your destination without reading, then read in a focused way upon arrival.
Ambulated Reading is not practical multi-tasking. It is a hobby, like any other, except that it’s better than the others. Stretch your legs, be aware that there are birds and other scenery items around you, and read. It is relaxing. It is edifying. It is recreational. It is classier than popular alternatives like spearfishing.
I hope this guide is of use. I’m interested in reading other’s stories in the comments. Good luck, buy a good pair of walking shoes, look both ways before crossing the street, and do not Read Ambulatedly while intoxicated.