I spent far too long staring at this T-shirt, number thirty-seven in BuzzFeed’s gallery of literary paraphernalia. I mean, I understand the basic concept: the wearer is reading, and would prefer not to be bothered. The garment is in the grand tradition of hostile tees, alongside such classics as “Do I LOOK like a fucking people person?” “Fuck You You Fucking Fuck,” and “You read my T-shirt. That’s enough social interaction for one day.” The genre is itself inherently tragic, combining as it does a desperate desire for human connection with a self-protecting defensiveness. This shirt adds to these the element of cognitive dissonance. Save in rare instances when the wearer is, indeed, engaged in reading—and which fact would presumably be self-evident—it’s simply not true. Or maybe they mean reading in a metaphorical, or psychic, sense.
If you encounter this shirt in the wild, you will want to know; your brain will teem with questions, your instinct will be to get to the bottom of the mystery. But of course, per the shirt, you can’t. You’ll walk away. And you’ll both be lonely and confused and left without closure. But maybe the richer for it.