I travel with public transportation quite a bit, and I read a lot while commuting too. While I don't mind being asked what book I'm reading, other people might. I'm always on the lookout for new authors, but I know that

  • some people might not want to be bothered
  • some people might feel patronized if they ask back and I am reading a tougher book than they are (I often read tough books on the train because there are no computer distractions at home)

Just trying to look at the book to catch the title/name is, of course, awkward in its own way. Potentially staring at people is not cool.

But this seems like something I shouldn't overthink.

I want to know the title and author, but I do not want to be seen as obtruding or a stalker.

Question: How to ask - politely and not disruptively - for the title of the book that the person in front of me is reading?

  • 2
    Is there something prompting the question? Has the person been smiling a lot while reading, laughing even? Is the person crying? Why are you interested in the title. We are not quite yet at the point that someone reading a book is an event in itself.
    – Helmar
    Jul 3 '17 at 19:25
  • @Helmar good point. I think sometimes the cover may look interesting. I know I had someone ask me who wrote a book because they saw "Phoenix" in the title and they lives in Arizona, and we had a cool discussion. There's no precise metric. Some days I'm interested in others' books, and some days I'm not. Perhaps it's just a book I can't identify immediately, and it's not a bestseller, and that's cool and interesting.
    – aschultz
    Jul 3 '17 at 19:36
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as too broad until the culture where this is taking place in is specified.
    – Mithical
    Dec 7 '17 at 13:23

In general, this is not considered impolite to ask what book your co-passenger is reading.

You can use regular polite words to ask starting with excuse me or pardon me. For eg.,

Excuse me. May I know the name of this book you're reading?


Excuse me. This appears to be an interesting book. What's the name of this book?

After that, you can ask for more information about that book. However, you must not invade the personal space while asking.

  • 1
    While I agree that it's not generally considered impolite, it is definitely true that some readers don't want to be disturbed. I think Valiant's answer provides a useful complement to this one by starting with an attempt to gauge whether the person is open to having an interaction or not. Nov 23 '17 at 7:11
  • It's funny that this and other answers here suggest "this appears to be an interesting book" as an starter. This is either void of meaning or was the asker furtively reading some of it over the reader's shoulders? But +1, this is really a non-issue: Just ask, follow the basic principles of politeness and you're good to go.
    – LoremIpsum
    Sep 22 '21 at 15:49

I used to be a recruiter, and while the goal was different, the methods to approach people I think are applicable to everyone in any situation. In your case, I would take a second to get an idea of the reader's non-verbal communication first. There are some obvious cues, like maybe he or she has headphones in while reading. This ought to be a clear sign that maybe he or she is trying to eliminate distractions, or maybe even avoid human interaction altogether.

I would also look to see how they respond to other stimulus, for example, do they look up to see who is getting on the subway? Do they acknowledge and smile when people walk by? Or do they just tuck themselves in closer and not make eye contact with anyone? Unless they are at least already willing to make eye contact (even if just for a second when they pass by) then they may either be intentionally trying to avoid contact, or they may be so absorbed that even if they aren't trying to avoid contact they may be startled if you interrupt them.

In any case, if they show some kind of engagement outside of their book, (such as smiling at passers by or occasionally looking out the window, etc) then I would consider that as a go-ahead opportunity to engage. To do that, I would follow some of the guidance already mentioned, and especially the Tom Au's guidance about making it worth their while, and also the general comments about using an introductory and polite phrase. And be genuine! Say what really drives you to ask! I might say:

"Excuse me, hi! Would you mind sharing what book you are reading? I really like the cover artwork!"

And smile/show enthusiasm while you say it! Or maybe:

"Sorry to bother you, but would you mind telling me the author of that book? I am fascinated by Chernobyl!"

Whatever it is, it doesn't matter, the general format is "(say something to get attention and portray that you acknowledge you are interrupting them), (ask your question in a way that really asks for permission for them to answer you)? (give them the psycho-social reciprocity, tell them why you want to know what only they can tell you and how much happier it will make you)!"

Following this methodology will:

  1. help you rule out readers that may not welcome such a question
  2. improve your odds of a positive and friendly response and make sure your question is fairly well received at least
  3. has a good chance of leading to an interesting conversation!

Note: I advise against making something up as to why you want to know. If you wind up in situation 3 but you weren't really that excited about Chernobyl, then you may find yourself in an awkward conversation... Also, in regards to challenging books, don't worry about it! Maybe if you know it is more advanced, just dismiss or downplay it.

Say something like:

"Oh, I'm just trying to learn more about Astrophysics, its really interesting!"

Then, if you see them kind of recoil a bit, maybe distance yourself from the book, so something like:

"I think I might have bit off more than I can chew!"
"I think I dove head first into the deep end!"

At any rate, after these first few exchanges, the possibilities are endless, just go out and try different things and let us know how it works out!


I consider it a bit of an imposition. But there is are ways to handle this question so that it is not inappropriate.

I'd begin by saying something like "Hi, the book you're reading looks interesting. What is the title?"

After the person answers, thank him or her and say something about that being your favorite topic. Basically, you're trying to convince the other person that the (small) effort expended in making you happy was worthwhile. It might even lead to an interesting conversation.

This may be one of those situations where you ask "forgiveness rather than permission."

But do this only if you are genuinely interested.


I think this is impolite, especially if it's a stranger. First of all I don't know what is the reader's personality or what is in his mind at that moment. Second, he might have react negatively. I would use common sense: if the person seems friendly, I would ask very politely; if not, I would respect his privacy.

  • Can you assess a person's friendliness by the look of his face when reading? The only impolite thing here would be the person reacting negatively to a genuine, interested and neutral question.
    – LoremIpsum
    Sep 22 '21 at 15:51

It's impolite to interrupt anyone while they are obviously reading, especially to ask a self-serving, trivial question. Besides, it's nosy, and prying. It's best not to assume that people want to talk (or just answer casual questions about themselves) simply because they happen to be out in public with other people. It's possible they choose to read, because they don't feel like talking to strangers.


We can't always predict how people will react to asking such questions.

So, ask the name of book at first is inappropriate.

First you should say a "hi" or something and see how they react.

If their response indicates that they are not disturbed by your question, feel free to ask the name of the book and the details of the book you want.

For example, you can say something like:

"I am very much interested in reading myself. Can you please tell me the name of the book you're reading?"

Ask all the details at once.

What are all the information you needed, ask it once.

Don't ask periodically, because it will disturb their reading.

  • 5
    I would disagree, If you just say "Hi" and wait, they could decide that you are trying to start a conversation and react worse than if you just ask the question.
    – Alissa
    Jun 30 '17 at 10:19

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