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How to Get Someone to Stop Reading Over Your Shoulder

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I have had a lifelong passion for reading and writing and graduated with a bachelor's in English literature.

"A Young Girl Reading a Letter, With an Old Man Reading Over her Shoulder" by Joseph Wright of Derby

"A Young Girl Reading a Letter, With an Old Man Reading Over her Shoulder" by Joseph Wright of Derby

Reading to Relax

Imagine yourself sitting in your chosen cozy corner for literary delight. With a comfy chair and a nice warm mug of something delicious at hand, you crack open the spine of your novel and lose yourself in that dreamlike state we call reading. Your surroundings melt away and all you see before you are words transformed into a new scenery exploring a whole other universe as you escape into the mind of your favorite or new-found author of choice.

Suddenly, you are snapped back into reality as a voice behind you asks "whatchya readin?" As your heart pumps back into action, you make to turn back and yell at this invader, only to come face to face with a grin that breaks only to announce, "I read that one!" Then continue with the most ridiculous question of all, "want to know what happens?"

This, my friends, is a reader's nightmare.

There are many versions of this kind of event, commonly known as reading over someone's shoulder. It's annoying, it's rude, and it's not always a situation that can be easily avoided or stopped immediately unless you aren't afraid to make enemies, lose friendships, or just seem like a mean and/or angry person.

It may be surprising to realize reading is not always seen as a private or relaxing time for others. Still, the people who commonly commit this sin in the literature world are only trying to make conversation and/or are just plain bored. As much as you want to slam your book and kick them in the shin for it, there are better ways to deal with this situation. Here are some suggestions for how to get someone to stop reading over your shoulder.

Ignoring People Who Read Over Your Shoulder

It's a kinder way of dealing with people reading over your shoulder but ignoring them is not the most effective method out there. The same goes for just moving away. Although these solutions may work sometimes, they do not always get your point across. When they fail, try to ask the person politely to leave you alone but still let them know how it makes you feel so that they understand. Keeping your tone and demeanor calm as you say it can avoid any drama. It can be difficult not to be rude but remember that they may not realize what they're doing. Here are some suggestions:

  1. I'm sorry but you're making me feel uncomfortable. Could you please sit somewhere else?
  2. Could you please stop reading over my shoulder?
  3. Can I help you? I can't help but notice you keep reading over my shoulder even though I have moved [x amount of] times.

As I've said before, the person may not realize what they are doing and apologize and leave you alone once you let them know. If it gets extreme, just walk away. Otherwise, simply answering a question or two or chatting for a bit about your book can be just as effective to make the person leave you in peace and stop reading over your shoulder once and for all.

Book Covers

Books are a great way to make conversation, by connecting to others based on their own reading lists compared to yours. When someone sees another person reading a book that they are absolutely enamored with or really hate, chances are, they're going to come reading over your shoulder to see how far you are and let you know their thoughts on it. The same goes if it's a popular book that everyone's talking about, such as Fifty Shades of Grey. They might not have read it, but, they're curious and aren't afraid to come over and read your copy while you're using it.

One great way to avoid this situation is to get or make a cover for your book. Books covers are surprisingly easy to make. They're also really cheap for those who are artistically challenged. The best part about them is that you can make them very personalized, which can lead to conversations more about the outside of your book, rather than the inside. The idea here is that perhaps if you distract onlookers with the exterior of your novel, they won't dally on over to see what's going on inside.

Aside from being a diversion, book covers can help hide what you're reading. Instead of broadcasting the cover where everyone can see and feel the urge to come invade upon your reading time, it keeps it secret. Perhaps people will recognize that since you aren't willing to share what you're reading in this manner, that you may not be willing to talk about it right now either. It can be a simple and peaceful fix to finally get someone to stop reading over your shoulder.

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A Small Note

This suggestion (as well as the one after the e-readers section) is purely meant for entertainment purposes only. If you really try this, it could potentially hurt someone.


Hey, if you're desperate, get an umbrella and keep it at your side at all times. For the lady-readers out there, you can even get one that fits in your purse. Next time someone comes over and starts reading over your shoulder, simply grab your umbrella, open it on up and lay in on your shoulder. Just make sure not to injure your poor onlooker.

Large hats, such as sombreros, work as well.


I read both regular books and books on my Kindle. As someone who reads on breaks at work in the break room, I found that using my e-reader rather than bringing in my regular books meant less questions from coworkers about what I'm reading and, more importantly, no more reading over my shoulder. Yes, there's the occasional question about whether or not I like my Kindle but, it's worth it not to have those eyes edging their way around my head to peruse what I have before me.

Just like book covers, e-readers are a great way to hide what you're reading and stop someone from reading over your shoulder. They can also make conversation starters themselves without anyone having to see what book you have in your hands.

Squirt Bottles

Another handy tool to keep with you while reading is a small squirt or spray bottle of water. If you can't get them to back off right away, give them a dash of hydration and watch them run like a cat in a rainstorm.

Reading Rooms

If the issue of how to get someone to stop reading over your shoulder is still difficult for you to deal with, making your own private space may be your best option. Here are some ideas for how to make a space your ideal private reading room:

  1. A lock on your door
  2. A cozy place to get comfortable (examples: a couch, bed, or chair)
  3. A lamp or light of some sort to read by
  4. A pet to keep you company (preferably a dog so that they can warn you of potential invaders)
  5. A music player (I personally love to read in silence or with soft classical music playing)

If you can't find the space, perhaps just scheduling out the best time will help. If you're home at a certain time or day while everyone else is at work or school, take advantage of it and read worry-free!

Pretending to Listen to Music

Finally, whether music actually helps you focus on your reading or not, just having headphones or earbuds in can help prevent onlookers from reading over your shoulder. Or at least prevent them from talking to you as you try to read.

Good luck in your attempts to stop someone from reading over your shoulder. Feel free to share any other suggestions you have, whether they are serious or purely meant as a joke (like my umbrella and water bottle suggestions) in the comments below.

How often has this happened to you?

Are you guilty of this?

© 2012 Lisa

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