Reading culture in London

London
Gillian Perry/Staff

“Evening Standard? Evening Standard for you, miss? Evening Standard, anyone? They’re free!” These words are bound to greet you every evening, Monday to Friday, in the city of London as you enter and exit Tube stations. As an American student studying in England for the summer, I was really shocked by this newspaper culture in London.

It seems rare, or at least rarer in America, to see so many people reading newspapers these days, especially en masse. It was a strange sight to see everyone so quiet, all reading the same tabloid on the Tube day after day — almost like a weird, apocalyptical feeling. It wasn’t unusual to see someone read their favorite section of the paper and politely (yes, in traditional British fashion) leave it behind on their seat for someone else to pick up and read. And if someone had ever forgotten to pick up their own copy of the London Evening Standard on their way down to the Tube, they wouldn’t waste much time asking you to pass the one behind your own seat and quickly retreat to their own little quiet bubble.

Though I was really perceptive of the newspaper culture at first, I soon realized this practice extended into leisurely reading on all fronts of life. Everywhere I was — whether it be on the bus, the Underground, the Overground, taxis, parks or cafes ­— people were always reading.

Immersing yourself in another’s culture is part of traveling, isn’t it? And so of course, I had to try it. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. When you’re a student at school, all you’re reading is essay after essay, scholarly work after research paper, studies on top of studies, and soon, the mere thought of reading in your free time seems absolutely repulsive. I, however, want to make a case for leisurely reading based on my experience this summer.

The moment the Tube escalators take you too deep and too far underground, you lose connection to data. The inconvenient act of finding stations with available Wi-Fi around London probably encourages more reading on the Tube. For me, this was a time to “power off” and disconnect from my mobile media. In a way, it was a time for me to detox from technology for the day. During this time, I would enter a space of solitude, even while I was among so many bodies. But this similar action of reading together, though it wasn’t necessarily interactive, was peaceful and meditative, and it no longer seemed apocalyptical as I had once thought.

Soon enough, I found myself reminded of how fun it was to read again. Though “real life” zoomed past me overground, I was able to escape to these fantastic realms of fiction while I was underground. For once, it felt like I could catch a break. And even more, it was while I was reading ­— something my brain had associated with uninteresting, dry material. It wasn’t long before my reading extended not only to my transit rides, but also during my times in parks, cafes and even home. By the end of summer, I had read more books than I had in the past year combined.

I think after this experience­ — one that started as more of an experiment of intrigue ­— that reading really is valuable to our lives, whether it serves the purpose of creating a break for us from things such as our phones and laptops, or serves the purpose of informing us about our communities or world through newspapers. Yes, it seems hard, with all the other things going on in life, but all it takes is a passing period, a lunch break or even half an hour before bed. Reading, I found, was a time to refocus on yourself, which seems simple, but it is actually hard to do these days when all we can think of sometimes is who our friends are with on Facebook, what they’re wearing on Instagram and what they’re eating on Snapchat (like crazy people, I know). I think we could learn a little from the British, slow down on the Netflix binge and incorporate a bit of leisurely reading into our own lives instead — you know, for our own sake.

Contact Chelsea Song at [email protected].

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