This paper elucidates the material, spatial, social and infrastructural contexts of reading in early twentieth century South Africa. It adds to a growing body of work on reading practices and patterns of book consumption by drawing attention to the neglected question of the “where of reading” – the physical contexts and settings of reading and the ways in which the organisation of space and the allocation of resources impacted on particular reading experiences and habits. The article also takes up a related set of questions pertaining to the access of books, the nature of specific reading encounters, the social relations that developed in these contexts and the reading practices that ensued. It focuses in detail on the contexts of reading which developed around the various “Non-European” reading initiatives and advances the concepts of the “poor library” and “fugitive reading” in order to describe both the rudimentary and improvisational nature of black reading spaces at this time and the various practices of tactical, opportunistic and itinerant reading which arose in response. Finally, it draws attention to the sociable, convivial and inherently public nature of black reading encounters and highlights a pervasive practice of mediated reading in which book interests were shared and encouraged.