The Paris Review has a post up today about crying while reading. The post author talks about when she read “The Little Match Girl” at the age of seven and found herself crying uncontrollably a few times at school. She was so embarrassed about being sad over a story that she made up excuses when her teachers tried to find out what was the matter. I was struck by her being embarrassed about crying over a book already at the tender age of seven. American culture doesn’t like it when people cry in public for anything other than a funeral or some sort of traumatic event. Crying during a movie is tolerated because you are in the dark and no one can see you, but if you start sobbing loudly I am sure people in your vicinity would not be pleased.
Crying while reading a book is frowned upon if you are anything besides alone. So what is a reader in public to do when the tears begin to flow? Luckily, the Paris Review linked to an article at BookRiot, What to Do When Books Make You Cry on Public Transportation. I’ve been taking public transit to work for the last four years and I must admit that I have had to stifle tears a few times. My technique for hiding my tears varies depending on the time of day. If it is morning, then I go for the fake yawn and start rubbing my eyes. No crying here, these are yawn tears and bed eyes, what do you expect for 6:45 in the morning?
If it is a summer afternoon I start sniffling like I have a stuffed nose, pretend I am going to sneeze, and then start rubbing my eyes. Allergies people, I have allergies! Winter afternoons are harder. If I can’t contrive to make it seem like I have gotten a blast of arctic cold air in my face that made my eyes water when the train door opened just then I have to resort to looking out the window and making faces or pulling the big hood on my coat over my head as far as it will go to try and hide my face.
Most of the time though when I am reading in public I am trying to not laugh/snort/chuckle/giggle/guffaw out loud. I work in downtown Minneapolis and there are already a large number of not quite sane people wandering around the area and riding the train. There are a number of regulars I see nearly every day who have entire conversations with themselves, laughing and arguing, questioning and scolding. I am worried that if I laugh out loud while reading my book I might get lumped in with the resident crazies.
But why should it matter whether a book makes me laugh or cry in public? Why am I embarrassed? Why do I care what the people around me think? Maybe one of these days I will just say forget it and sob and laugh freely over my books in public. If I did that then maybe all the other readers on the train will be emboldened to do the same. And who knows where that might lead?