Among my collection of loved childhood books resides a badly-singed copy of Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery. It's the result of what became known in my family as The Gravy Incident.
For years my mother had been admonishing me to take my nose out of my book whilst attempting other activities such as walking, climbing trees, brushing teeth, or on one spectacularly unsuccessful occasion, taking a shower.
On this particular day she insisted I stir the gravy NOW, a request which seemed highly unreasonable to a ten-year-old engrossed in the mishaps and scrapes of the adult Anne of Green Gables and her brood of six children. I harrumphed my way to the stove, where I stood lazily whisking with one hand and holding my book in the other. Inevitably the book drifted too close to the gas flame, and suddenly my paperback was alight.
Happily, both book and child survived to read another day. Well, most of the book survived, but by then I'd read it so many times I probably knew the missing words by heart anyway.
The Gravy Incident highlights the inherent dangers awaiting booklovers who attempt to multi-task, so I was delighted to discover this recent article published by Time magazine, offering a definitive guide to the art of reading-while-walking.
Apparently there are others like me who find it difficult to put down an engrossing book for the length of time it takes to walk to the kitchen for a glass of water, or to collect the mail, or to walk from the bus stop to the office. Time writer Lev Grossman is mostly concerned with read-walking in public places and offers tricks and tips to read your way from A to B while minimising both physical risks and inconvenience to those around you.
For those of us afflicted, read-walking can be almost a compulsion. "Once in a while I get off the subway at a crucial juncture in a novel, and I just cannot wait till I'm in my office to find out what happens next," writes Grossman. "I have to squinch out a few sentences in between. I just have to."
Oh, do I know that feeling. I am convinced there is some perverse law of commuting, that the point at which one's book approaches an exciting twist is equal to, or greater than, the time of arrival at one's destination. Over the years I've sailed past countless train and bus stops while absorbed in some intriguing plot development.
If only I'd had Grossman's advice when I lived in London and indulged in read-walking from the tube station to my office on a fairly regular basis. His draft-behind-another-pedestrian, and position-book-under-arm-and-snatch-sentences-in-short-bursts techniques would have been invaluable whilst navigating a busy road and passing by one of the city's then most crime-ridden housing estates. Who says booklovers don't live life on the edge?
These days I work from home, so my read-walking is mostly confined to the domestic sphere. I sometimes suffer minor guilt when I read some self-help guru's advice about the importance of "living in the moment" and paying attention to the beauty in the everyday. But sod it, a mother of two pre-schoolers has to take any opportunity to snatch a few sentences, even if it's whilst folding laundry.
Or to put it in Grossman's terms, any opportunity to choose art over life. Because 25 years later, I still think literature is more interesting than gravy.
Are you a read-walker? What's the craziest activity you have attempted while reading?