authors, books

Seen Reading

This is not a review. Not yet. I only just went to bed with the book (I badly wanted to tweet last night that I was taking Julie Wilson to bed but my computer was already off), and I haven’t finished it. I just wanted to call your attention, you book lovers, you readers, to a book I think is very cool. You may have already heard of it. You may have already seen my reaction to it, even.

It’s called Seen Reading, and it’s by Julie Wilson. I’ve included below a very interesting press release that was sent to me earlier, as well.

This is me, when I received the book in the mail last night. I hadn’t been expecting it — I’d fully expected to buy it. I still will because I think it would make a great gift.


That right there is genuine book excitement, folks — a friend even pointed out my dilated pupils so you know I’m not faking! I didn’t pose for this picture: when I unwrapped the book, I ran and grabbed the camera and propped it on a shelf and pressed the button and jerked back and it almost instantly took the photo. Pure luck I made it in there, and not looking too much like a dork. First try, even! What you don’t see, unfortunately, is the dog right at my lap looking up at me and doing her boxer bean dance because I’ve barely come in through the door and my flurry of activity has got her all excited, too.

In the (exciting) moment is what this photo is.

I’ll tell you why, too. Seen Reading is a really neat concept. So neat I was trying my damnedest last night to swallow back the raging jealousy. Why did I not think of this? How many of us haven’t been curious as to what others are reading when we catch them in the act in public? Before my husband and I had a washing machine and dryer and our own place, I used to go down to the laundromat with my book. Every single time someone else had a book too I struck up a conversation. I waited till their nose wasn’t in the book and I’d ask them about it. Like it? I’d say. Or, I’ve heard about that one! One time I went out and bought a copy of Richard Russo’s Empire Falls because of a laundromat conversation. (We’re booksellers all, when we’re readers.) I never finished it. But that’s kind of the beauty of it, too, isn’t it? I always marvel at how someone can love a book so much and I strongly dislike it or vice versa. Chacun à son goût! The difference in people’s reading tastes intrigues me. They say there’s someone for everyone. It’s like that with books, too. Well, to each his own. I love witnessing that.

I’ve been known to lower the passenger window in our car and stick out my head to gawk at a pedestrian who was amazingly walking and reading at the same time. The last time I did this, all I got was a Caucasian male, in his twenties, junk food gut and wearing a trench coat, longish shaggy hair, carrying a black backpack, and reading some battered paperback sci-fi novel that may or may not have been by Robert Heinlein. I couldn’t tell; I was in a moving car. I wanted to shout at him, Hey! Awesome! I love it that you’re reading and walking! I love seeing such nerdiness! I think you’re cool! Or maybe, you know, just give him a thumbs up and drive away grinning.

I’ll talk more about Seen Reading when I’ve finished it, but I’ll tell you that what’s cool about this book is that Julie’s taken her observations of readers in transit and imagined who they are, how they got there, where they’re going. There’s a description of her reader, the book they’re reading, even sometimes the page they were on. And across from it, on the left-hand side, which is interesting in itself, is the fictional scene she’s imagined about that reader — it might be from when they were a kid, or what they did on a particular morning, or how they interacted with a family member or beloved.

Julie’s taken an everyday thing, readers in public, extraordinary or exciting perhaps only for people who love books, and wondered aloud about these wonderful people who make up the urban transit landscape. I have so many questions about this! I think it’s fascinating. I mean, why do we read in public?  So many reasons! What is it saying about us? Is there anything these readers in public have in common? Are they all wearing some similar article of clothing? Are they all a similar age? Are they a certain “type”? Do readers in public generally read a certain kind of book? Perhaps more interesting: do readers on the Toronto transit have what they read in common? Are they reading predominantly Canadian, or even Torontonian, authors? If there’s nothing at all in common besides the fact that they read in public, interesting in itself, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

It’s this question Julie asks and imagines the answers to, and it’s this question that also makes us want to connect with the people we see investing their time in a book. Each time we ask a person about what they’re reading, it’s not only about the book: it’s also an urge to connect with someone we feel an instant, albeit it perhaps fleeting commonality. For book lovers, there’s no denying we feel a special unspoken connection with others who read. Certain car owners, motorcyclists, too, feel it, people who have an article of clothing or an accessory in common…it’s all about a sense of validation, of fitting in, of belonging. A meeting of passions.

Sometimes we say something, sometimes we don’t: instead, we quietly watch as they turn the pages, as they dogear, smile, become absorbed — as they mirror ourselves. We understand what they’re doing. To a small extent, we already know who they are. But that makes us want to know more about them.

Julie gives us one interpretation. And best thing about her profiles, about her sketches, is that they’re not, in fact, short stories. Not to my mind. Better, even, in this case, they’re open-ended, a kind of teaser. Beautifully, sympathetically rendered paragraphs that encourage more interpretation, further imagining. Her pieces are as transient as her readers, as they come and go from one stop to another — mere glimpses, but deeply considered. And perhaps most neat of all, they’re in book form. I want to say it’s a kind of postmodern thing, but Ms Wilson is too forward-thinking for postmodernism. She’s forging her own, thoughtful, curious path. There’s more to this than I’ve told you, more than meets the eye, to quote a famous Transformers cartoon.

That’s one of the great things about this book. As simple as it is, as much as it’s one woman’s imaginings about the characters she observes, it’s also making a societal statement and asking societal questions. As readers, both of any books and this one, all we need do is think about it. I think we’ll find our minds opened.


February 24, 2012

For Immediate Release:

 Freehand Books and HarperCollinsCanada announced today the simultaneous April 1 publication of SEEN READING by Julie Wilson. Freehand Books acquired Canadian English print rights to the title over a year ago. HarperCollinsCanada acquired Canadian English digital rights this month.

“I believe this could be a first for Canadian publishing,” says Samantha Haywood, who arranged both deals on behalf of Transatlantic Literary Agency. “It is certainly a first for me as an agent. It just goes to show that when the industry works in the best interests of the project, everyone walks away happy. The partnership makes good business sense for all involved.”

Seen Reading is the exciting debut collection of microfictions from Canada’s pre-eminent literary voyeur, Julie Wilson. Based on the beloved online movement of the same name, Seen Reading collects more than a hundred stories inspired by sightings of people reading on Toronto transit, each reader re-invented in a poetic piece of short fiction.

“Everyone at Freehand was so excited when we found out about this project,” says Sarah Ivany, Freehand’s Managing Editor. “We were all fans of the Seen Reading online movement, which is such a fresh and creative concept. However, we didn’t want to rush the book to print—we believed that this collection had the potential to be so much more than a facsimile of a pre-existing blog. Julie, editor Robyn Read, and designer Natalie Olsen (Kisscut Design) have all put an extraordinary amount of work into this book, and I am delighted with the results. Julie’s known for being a creative force within the publishing industry, but she’s also a really beautiful writer, and I can’t wait for people to get their hands on this collection.”

“The unique nature of this project is a clear fit for the direction HarperCollinsCanada is taking with our digital publishing program,” said Deanna McFadden, Associate Director of Digital Product Development at HarperCollinsCanada.

Wilson has been working closely with Read and Olsen to ensure that the transition from new media to literature is a smooth one, to come full circle with a new online community to be launched in conjunction with the book’s release, April 1. Freehand Books has contracted Ziegler, Mitchell, and Associates to redesign and expand the Seen Reading website, The new site will feature a blog, reading guides, a newsletter, and interactive forums where people can log their own reader sightings and connect with like-minded literary fans.

“My own love of reading includes curiosity about what others are reading, and how they came to those books,” says Vicki Ziegler, web/online/social media manager for the Griffin Poetry Prize. “My team is now helping to extend the online presence of a venture that celebrates that curiosity, with the extraordinary Julie Wilson no less. That’s bookish nirvana.”

For her role as both creator and author, Wilson is thrilled with the evolution of Seen Reading from blog to book to online community, and the opportunity this unique publishing partnership brings to the table. “I love Seen Reading dearly, and the love-in continues with the tremendous support of Freehand Books and HarperCollinsCanada. Over the years, I’ve considered self-publishing, but just like the web of friends you call when you start dating someone new, you benefit from some distance, along with a variety of opinions and perspective. I simply don’t want to do this alone, because nothing about Seen Reading is intended to point to a solo identity beyond casting myself as The Literary Voyeur. Too many people feed into it, from writers to publishers to booksellers, librarians and, of course, the reader. That more than one publisher should help spread the word speaks to the true nature of Seen Reading.”

For more information, to request a review copy, or to arrange interviews, please contact Freehand Books Managing Editor Sarah Ivany at 403-452-5662 or via email at For more information about the ebook, please contact Rob Firing, Director, Publicity and Communications at HarperCollinsCanada at 416-975-9334 x141 or via email at

About the author: 

Julie Wilson is The Book Madam, a self-professed “professional publishing fan” living and working in Toronto. She’s the past Online Marketing Manager for House of Anansi Press and recent Host of the CBC Book Club.

You can follow Julie on Twitter: @BookMadam and @SeenReading, and you can tweet your own reader sightings using the hashtag #seenreading.

Praise for Seen Reading:

“Beneath the surface of Julie Wilson’s energy, biting wit, and quirkiness lays intelligence and insight—a fresh observer to the dynamic ways in which we communicate.”—Anthony De Sa

“I spy, with my little eye, something that is utterly delightful. Take a peek at Julie Wilson’s Seen Reading. There are treasures to be found within.”—Ami McKay

“With Seen Reading, Julie Wilson has done something revolutionary for the time: seamlessly combine books-related gossip, arts reportage, and creative writing in every post. The results are exhilarating and deliciously voyeuristic.”—George Murray,


  1. Wow! I’ve never heard of this book but I am definitely going to check it out. It sounds really interesting. I love your story about the man walking + reading at the same time. Here in Vancouver I’ve seen the same lady jogging + reading. I’ve always want to talk to her, but she always seems to be in work clothes with running shoes on, and it’s almost always around lunchtime, so I never want to interrupt her lunch break. Now that is what I call multitasking.

    1. Steph Author


      I love everything about this book. It is truly gorgeous. The cover is lovely, textured, and it’s a shorter, wide book, the paper is awesome, soft, a nice weight. And the design is really cool, with streets overlapping the words from her reader descriptions on the back cover, the front cover and font used inside are specially designed based on the street signs in TO. The layout design is also lovely. I mean, I just enjoy holding this book.

      And then the insides. I can’t believe how much my mind races reading it. Just getting the description of the reader sets you off, and then when you read Julie’s bit of fiction, that gets you imagining too. It’s her writing but also the entire concept that gets me.

      And I cannot myself read and walk at the same time. I did it once and my nose kissed a telephone pole. This guy was navigating the sidewalk along a very busy street without any issue. I don’t know how. I admired him. And I just loved how much it said, I love this book, and I want to read it every chance I get. He didn’t look the type to be reading in public because he wants people to admire him. You know? I peg this guy as a total D&D nerd.

      Reading and running?! That’s like my husband’s ex-girlfriend. She apparently used to read and DRIVE.

  2. Marie Clausén

    I don’t generally tend to read in public, probably partly because the type of book I tend to read requires the kind of concentration I can only find at home, in silence. The few times that I do bring a book along to a public place – usually if I’m going to spend several hours somewhere like a hospital or airport – it’s to help mark my desire for distance from my surroundings, my desire to remain cocooned in my own private existential space. In other words, I don’t at that time want to, or seek to, interact. So someone then asking me if I like the book, or gazing at me while I read, would upset me so much.

    1. Steph Author

      I understand. Sometimes, though rarely, I feel that way, too. But I get it. That’s why I don’t interrupt a person’s reading but wait till their nose is out of the book or they look up or something. I’ve never had anyone get upset with me!

      Generally, though, I pull out my book because I try and read every spare moment I can, and I also hate not doing something while waiting, either to get somewhere or for someone or whatever. For me it’s not really to disappear but rather to occupy my time with something other than simply observing. I don’t mind being interrupted; it’s only for a short few moments, and if not, then I’m enjoying the conversation! I like when people ask. I think it’s great that they’re curious, or want to talk about how they felt about it. I’m used to doing this in general, though, every day — talking books, I mean, with strangers.

      1. Marie Clausén

        I wouldn’t have a ready reply as to what I think about a book if asked anyway. It takes me a while to digest a book and form a considered opinion. It also takes me a while to leave the world of the book and return to the world around me – I’m not necessarily coherent on emerging. It’s like asking someone who has just surfaced after a long dive to speak. They may not have the breath for it, or may not even be able to see you for the bright sun…

        Reading is a private act (for me) even when done in public so I would frankly be shocked to get comments about my choice of literature just as I would if fellow diners in a restaurant were to discuss my meal or someone in a coffee shop commented on what was on my screen if I was surfing on my laptop. I may be in public, but I’m engaging in private activities and expect others to respect that. If I thought I would be attracting the attention of strangers by bringing or reading a book in public I would avoid it, as I would hate for anyone to think that I was actually angling for contact. This has thankfully only happened to me once, when I was reading an Atwood novel at Bridgehead a couple of years ago. It was also an example of a cross-cultural interaction where I interpreted the accosting as being culture-specific. I did leave earlier than planned as a result and also made sure the person in question wasn’t there on subsequent visits. :)

  3. This sounds like a fabulous book! I never read in public. I need the peace and quiet of my own home to focus. The only exception is in waiting rooms, but I usually just pick up a magazine then. There was once though when I was reading in my car parked in a parking lot and someone stopped by my window, gave me a thumbs up and said, “great book!” That was a fun experience.

  4. Jen

    This sounds amazing! One of the only things I hate about e-readers is it’s harder to figure it what people are reading.
    Actually here in Japan people read a lot on public transport but they are covered by paper covers in the bookstore! How detrimental to my curiosity!

  5. Marie Clausén

    Someone should have edited Anthony De Sa’s comment for Julie Wilson’s sake: it should be ‘lies’, not ‘lays’, in this instance. Were these printed on the back cover? I would imagine it’d be a somewhat anticlimactic experience to receive an accolade for one’s writing from someone who hasn’t yet mastered basic grammar. Haha!

  6. Steph – you never cease to amaze me. Just when I thought I couldn’t get more excited about books and about reading, you crank it up another notch! Thanks for the inspiration, yet again! Cannot wait to read this book!

  7. Oh wow, I used to read the Seen Reading blog all the time! It was years ago though, maybe 2006, 2007? I loved the recurring characters – um, people – and hearing about books that were new to me – and of course I wanted to know if I’d appear too! (with a mix of eagerness and trepidation!) So, great news that the project’s still going and she’s getting published. I should frequent her blog again. :)

    1. Steph Author

      I didn’t even know it was around that long. That’s cool that you could recognize people she’d see repeatedly. I wondered about that, actually. If she saw the same people always reading. I’d love to see myself through another’s eyes like that, too; I mean, see myself observed in a description. It would be interesting.


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