Reading in public has become a whole lot sexier thanks to the relaunch of Julie Wilson's Seen Reading project. Beginning in 2006, Wilson started spying on readers around Toronto (the subway, the bus, coffee shops etc...) as an act of personal interest, but also as a way to document a street-level interest in literature that might somehow substantiate relationships between publishers/authors and the folks who read their books.
The idea is simple: find someone reading in public and make notes on a)where you saw them, b)their physical description, c) the page number they were on. Later, Wilson hopefully finds a copy of the book and documents the actual passage they were on. From there, she sets out to write a brief fictional account of the person based on the information collected. Nothing mean-spirited of course.
As a writing exercise, it was a great way to get the creative muscles flexing (I might add here that George Bowering was Canada's original literary spy. See: Still a Writer). But for Julie Wilson — having worked in the book publishing industry for many years — this was an excellent way to see just who is reading what in Canada these days. Think of it as a type of guerilla market research that you can do on your daily commute or lunch break.
Julie took a hiatus from the project, but after renewed interest that even saw an article in the January edition of Macleans, Seen Reading is back and Wilson has plans to extend her espionage team to other major cities around Canada. When I last checked, Sean Cranbury from Books on the Radio had signed up to cover East Van, but there are still spots open for other interested parties.
Reading a book in public is a great way to tell people that you are smart, but be careful the next time you pull out that copy of Twilight because you never know who may be watching!
To become a literary spy or to check out her latest posts, visit Wilson’s website Seen Reading.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @SeenReading or @BookMadam