I was taking the SkyTrain (it's like a subway, but above ground... a superway?) yesterday, and I noticed the woman sitting opposite me, who was reading Nick Hornby's About a Boy. Weird coincidence: I had JUST been thinking that I need to get my hands on a copy of About a Boy, because my copy's gone missing and I've been thinking for months about re-reading it.
That aside, sneakily watching this woman read her book made me realize that I really like watching people read. Have you ever done this? Stared out of the corner of your eye at your partner, a friend, or a total stranger while they're lost in a book? It's not like staring at people who are themselves staring off into space with slack, vacant expressions. People who read have a variety of amazingly subtle facial expressions that are a happy wonder to observe.
Take the woman on the SkyTrain. She had just the slightest frown, which modulated slightly from page to page. It's not that she seemed, well, not bright or anything. (Anyone who likes Nick Hornby gets the benefit of the doubt in my book.) It was more of a sympathetic frown, the kind you find yourself wearing when someone is telling you their troubles and you're feeling their pain.
I got to thinking about the times I've sneaked peeks -- or downright stared, if I was sure I wouldn't get caught -- at the people I know while they read.
Rusty, for example, has a very forthright, relaxed gaze when he's getting a book into him. He's taking in the story or the information on the pages, but he hasn't decided if he's buying it yet or not.
Sam, on the other hand, not only furrows his brow, as if fully doubting the veracity of his board books ("A long time ago there were dinosaurs?" We'll see about that), he also purses his lips much like Arnold from Diff'rent Strokes. (Whatchoo talking about, dinosaurs?)
The Fabulous Suzi is very similar to Rusty. She's open-minded as all get-out, but she didn't just fall off the pumpkin truck. She'll decide when it's over if the book was good or not, and you can bet she'll be able to give you a concise, nuanced opinion about it.
Our housemate The Don recently showed us a video he's working on about his travels through Thailand and Cambodia. At one point he hooked up with our good friends Ali and Little D, and he shot some footage of them reading on a beach. Oblivious to the camera, Ali gives her book the same look she gives her friends when you tell her a story: relaxed and slightly credulous, but also anticipatory and encouraging, as if she's giving the book little cues that it's doing a good job so far and to keep up the great work. Little D, on the other hand, is frowning intently and unblinkingly at the pages. I can't know what she's thinking, but I imagine that something powerful has just happened, and empathetic soul that she is, Little D is trying to assimilate this.
I've never caught some of my friends reading, but I like to guess how they'd look. Rizzo I envision with the tip of her tongue sticking slightly out of her closed mouth... not that she needs to do this to concentrate but because she's possibly the cutest chick alive and I think that, on her, this facial expression could shut things down over at Cute Overload if they let humans compete. And I imagine Suepy staring with powerful intent at a book, absorbing each page's contents in huge swathes with her crazy eidetic memory.
I have no idea how I look when I read. I've been told that I have no facial expression whatsoever, that my eyes just scan left to right, left to right, left to right, while the rest of my face is totally immobilized. I'm curious to see what that looks like, but I'm even more curious about how a human face can refrain from reacting when so many thoughts are swirling around behind its eyes. As someone once said, people are weird.