What People Read in the Waiting Room


The medical clinic where I work is very busy and the waiting room gets crowded pretty quickly with patients and their loved ones.

There’s a TV with the news blaring 24/7, and a teetering magazine rack, which is pretty standard entertainment for a waiting room. However, because I am a literary snoop, I’m way more interested in the books my patients are reading.

A couple of my co-workers and I love to read too, so we’re always swapping suggestions. I vividly remember a dog-eared copy of 50 Shades of Grey making its way around the reception desk and us giggling like mad every time it made an appearance. It made us giggle even harder whenever we spotted a patient trying to read the same book, almost always covertly, with the spine bearing the title concealed firmly in their lap. (We have since made our way through other, much more scandalous novels. Lucy of the chocolate chocolate cake fame is real expert in bodice-rippers.)

Of course you spot a lot of mystery and crime novels as well, of all flavors, and sometimes if the book is popular enough you’ll see its translated counterpart , which is always a blast, especially if the language doesn’t use characters we recognize in English.

My favorite waiting room book story, however, took place a few weeks ago when a patient told me she was reading Annabel by Kathleen Winter, a book that I had loaned out to numerous friends and for whatever reason had never read myself. It had been sitting on my shelf for years, untouched.

After my fit of sputtering and waving my hands wildly subsided, I explained the coincidence to her. She highly recommended that I read it and offered to chat more about it on her next visit.

At this point one of our specialists had come of out of the exam room and seen my explosion. When she found out which book we were talking about it, she exploded as well. (Ok, not really. She was excited, just not at my level.) It turns out she too owned the book and had abandoned it much in the same way I had.

“Read it!” the patient encouraged us. “Tell me how far along you are when I come back next week. There’s no way you’ll be finished by then.”

The specialist and I looked at each other. Challenge accepted. Both of our copies made an appearance at the office the very next day and by the time the patient came back for her follow-up appointment, we were ready and waiting. What followed was a wonderful, lively discussion, which happens so infrequently in the waiting room that it felt like a rare treat. It was so nice to form a bond with people at work over a shared interest of something medical (read: nasty). Now this patient brings the specialist and I book recommendations on a regular basis, and the opportunity to stop and chat feels like finding a quiet oasis in an otherwise busy place. You can’t put that feeling into a pill.

KBwB-BFlower-50Ever creeped someone reading while in the waiting room? On the bus? Standing in line? We would probably be friends in real life. Let’s be friends on Goodreads, or you can comment on any of my book posts here or below, and let me know what’s going on in your literary life.

Also, apologies to Kathleen Winter for using her book as an example. I deeply regret leaving your book unread on my shelf for years, especially when it was nominated for the Giller Prize. It was a beautiful book and it deserved the nomination! If you are interested in reading it as well, I get a small kickback if you decide to purchase it through my Amazon store. It helps keep food in my dog’s bowl!