Reading on the Subway

September 12th, 2012 by Patricia Woodard

Since my daily commute has been enhanced by reading for three decades, I’ve always been pleased to see how many other New Yorkers share my habit. I’ve enjoyed several New York Times “Metropolitan Diary” entries over the years that dealt with books and reading and commuter behavior. A wonderful 2007 piece described a reader’s encounter with a “seat imperialist” (rider who sprawled over 3 seats and refused to share). One that I haven’t been able to track down dealt with a very original response to yet another space hog: “make room or I’ll tell you how your book comes out.” A German visitor remarked that he saw a much higher percentage of commuters reading on the NYC subway than on the Berlin U-Bahn. That was interesting, and I began to look around at just exactly how many other riders were equipped with printed matter. When it wasn’t too crowded, sometimes I’d count the readers, but my record-keeping never became systematic.
Then a year ago, my curiosity assumed new directions. A July 4, 2011 Times column (“E-Books: Versatile, Portable and Bad for My Dating Life”) led me to consider the implications of what it would really mean to have no idea what my fellow passengers on the subway were reading. I had always casually noticed book titles and authors, and occasionally had enjoyed exchanges with people who were reading things I had particularly liked. But the spread of Kindles, Nooks and IPads would put a stop to such chance encounters, one of the great pleasures of metropolitan life. So, for just over a year, I have been seriously noticing what people are reading, and how many electronic readers might be in use around me. Some mornings everyone seems to have gotten religion of some kind (prayer books, Bibles, sacred texts in scripts I cannot read). Newspapers – both the long-running dailies and the freebies – are usually well represented in the AM. Yesterday afternoon, two riders within arm’s length both had the latest issue of New York magazine. There are a great many other observations I could share, but I will confine my remarks to a far-from-comprehensive list of books I’ve seen people reading. Some of these were familiar titles. Some of them I’ve seen in the hands of several readers. Others are totally new to me, so I looked for reviews. Most are available either in the Hunter College Library or from another CUNY library. Others will be found in public library collections. Maybe there’s something on the list you’ve always meant to read.
Girl with the Dragon Tatoo (Stieg Larsson)
In Cold Blood (Truman Capote)
La Atalaya (Elizabeth A. Lynn)
Betrayal in Death (J.D. Robb)
Our Man in Damascus: Story of Elie Cohen (Elie Ben-Hanan)
Magic for Beginners (Kelly Link)
Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon)
A Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin)
Imagine: How Creativity Works (Jonah Lehrer)
Fifty Shades of Gray
No Rest for the Wicked (Kresley Cole)
Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)
Bitch (Deja King)
Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond)
The Help (Kathryn Stockett)

And what does Baumeister and Tierney’s book have to do with this posting? That’s what I was reading on the “F” train this morning.

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One Response to “Reading on the Subway”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Patricia, have you seen the Underground New York Public Library site? It’s terrific, and completely related to this post:

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