The Help Desk: Men keep interrupting my reading time and I hate it

Cienna Madrid is observing Veteran's Day; please enjoy this classic from the Help Desk archives. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I'm a young woman, I love to read, and I ride public transit. You can probably guess what happens next: do you have any short responses for me to say to men who insist on interrupting my precious reading time? I don't want to be confrontational, but my reading a book should not be seen as an open invitation to flirt.

Liz, #7

Dear Liz,

In the words of Mother Theresa (not that one, another one), “If you didn’t want men accosting you in public you should have never grown dirty pillows.” My advice is slightly more helpful: Either cut them off or get comfortable with the idea of being confrontational. It’s easy! Fun, even!

Try memorizing these simple phrases so you have them ready when someone asks, “what are you reading?”:

“The scratch-and-sniff book of vaginal diseases.”

“Hitler and Pol-Pot: The BFF pop-up book.”

“Sex games you can play with your cat.”

The trick is to make men — many of whom have lived their lives without being made to feel true discomfort at the hands of a woman — feel as uncomfortable as they are making you at that precise moment.