Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Saw The Same Book Twice!

Seriously, what are the chances? What are the chances that in the morning I would spot a commuter on the train reading a novel and on the way back see the very same commuter with the very same book? Come on, this is New York! This is the subway! Same subway car twice? What a coincidence!

On Tuesday, July 22nd, I saw a man reading Tim O'Brien's July, July, which reminded me that I'd been wanting to read The Things They Carried for a long time now. A woman was reading Chuck Palahniuk's Choke, which I have always been intrigued by, but the anatomical cover art turns me off. Man reading Paris 1919. A 2008 edition of What Color is Your Parachute? Does it change colors every year? I had no idea that the book was still around. A woman was reading Donald McCaig's Rhett Butler's People with such intensity that I was a little surprised not to see her lips move. Maybe I didn't look closely enough.

On the way back downtown, I saw a woman reading Jennifer Weiner's Good In Bed, a chick lit book that I could not get through because I kept getting bored. Hmm, maybe I can subtitle this blog Books That I Could Not Finish. Another one was reading Two Little Girls in Blue, by Mary Higgins Clark. I bought it for my mother in law when she broke her hip while visiting us in New York and was laid up in the hospital. While waiting for her one day, I read the back and that was pretty much all I needed to know. Children kidnapped, if I recall correctly. And apparently wearing blue outfits. I heard Mary Higgins Clark speak once and she is so charismatic and lovely, and yet I find her completely unreadable.

Butterfly Lost. a mystery by David Cole. Never heard of him or the book. P.D. James' The Lighthouse. I've only read one P.D. James book, and I am going to read another one. Yes, I know that's a big announcement. I'm sorry that I didn't give you more warning. And then it happened! On 23rd street, in walked Choke again! Still reading! Well, she wasn't reading when she walked in, but I am assuming that she did once she sat down. I wouldn't know, because I had to get off the train then.

On July 23rd, I saw someone engrossed in Bill Buford's Heat, which I've read and recommend. Buford worked at Babbo, a top NYC Italian restaurant that everyone should visit and he chronicles his adventures. Great read for foodies and gossips alike. There was also someone sleeping with an open copy of The Big U-by Neal Stephenson sprawled across his chest. Others were reading Beautiful Boy (another Starbuck's book, this time about a father's journey through his son's addiction. Would you like a latte with that?), The Firm, vintage John Grisham and Rough Crossings: The Slaves, the British and the American Revolution. Last but definitely not least, the person sitting next to me was reading Black Nationalism in Capitalist America, which for some reason isn't listed on

Heading home, there was an Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, and on the train I was greeted with Dirty Diplomacy, which I hope to whatever is holy wasn't a Henry Kissinger confidential. I also spotted Rex Stout mystery and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay which I started but could not get through. Whenever I see a book that I could not finish, I scrutinize the reader making her way through my failure. There was nothing about this woman that I could pinpoint that made her stick with Kavalier & Clay. Another reader was clutching Tell No One, which looked like something that I would get from the library when I was thirteen and bored out of my mind. She wasn't thirteen, although I can't comment on boredom status. And then there was Plum Sykes' Bergdorf Blondes. Yes, I hate chick lit, but I liked this one. What can I say? I'm inconsistent. And possibly a hypocrite.

Thursday and Friday were low book days on the subway. On July 24th, I saw Confederacy of Dunces, which I really do love quite a bit because it is so funny and the story of its posthumous publication is so tragic. On July 25th, the week ended with my seeing Hard by Wayne Hoffman and Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media. No, they were not together.

Monday, July 21, 2008

It Finally Happened

Are you worried that this blog of my listing the books that I've spotted people reading on the New York City mass transit system will be a bit like watching paint dry, without the excitement? Neither am I!

It finally happened on Thursday, July 10th as I headed uptown on the F. An entire subway ride, readers everywhere and not a single book that I'd read. I was sure that it would never happen. But it did. The woman on the platform was reading The Last Mrs. Astor. The first reader on the train had a copy of
Raymond Fiest's Magician: Master , which is not an S&M novel, but is rather Merlin related. Although I can see how there do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.

Right across was Roses are Red, the 6th Alex Cross thriller. Personally I don't like numbered books because at some point, it is inevitable that the author will do some "recap" paragraphs that just read like fillers to me. I didn't like it when it happened with Harry Potter, either. I know they're no longer paid by the word, but I still feel like I'm owed a refund at that point. Eat Pray Love, which I refuse to read or link to because it is so popular and The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldan. Now, I've never read Gabaldon, although I did buy one of her books and kept it by my bed for a few months, but from everything that I've heard, she seems more like a lifestyle choice than a novelist. People become all wrapped up in her books, lose sleep and do nothing but read them. I know that may make it sound compelling, but it seems to me that if you'd just take up heroin instead of her books, you'll also lose weight!

Finally, I saw someone reading After Dark, by Haruki Murakami, and I became momentarily excited because in my desperation I confused the author with the wonderful Kazuo Ishiguro, and was thrilled that he had a new book out. No such luck. By the way, despite hating book titles that read like song lyrics, or even worse, titles of songs, I absolutely loved everything about Never Let Me Go, including the title and the humming that it elicited in me. It just proves that it is the exception that makes the rule, in my opinion. Seriously, if you haven't read it, there is absolutely no excuse.

On the way back, I realize that I would really appreciate it if people would read hardcover books, with dust jackets. And if it is not too much to ask, could they please hold up the book in front of their faces as opposed to resting them on their laps? Because if the book is on your lap, and I'm trying to bend down to look at the cover, it looks like I'm trying to peer up your dress, and that's just not necessary. Thank you. I did see someone actually reading Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust. Hm. I assumed that he was reading Lonelyhearts, but maybe he was reading Locust. I've never seen anyone outside of high school reading that book. Our book group read it last year and it was not pretty.

On Friday, July 11th, I see a woman reading Emily Griffin's Love the One You're With. I have mixed feelings about Griffin because generally, I despise chick lit, and I cannot stress this enough, book titles that are song lyrics, but I thoroughly enjoyed Something Borrowed and Something Blue. Baby Proof was awful and not even in a chicklit way, just in mind numbingly boring way. She wrote the way Virginia Woolf may have if she were devoid of anything interesting to say. This makes Griffin's latest an easy pass for me, not that the subway lady asked for my opinion, of course. Across from her, a man with many tattoos is reading a battered copy of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. I tried reading it in high school, when I was all angst-enriched and listening to the Grateful Dead (at very low volume, because I didn't like them, but didn't want anyone to know--yeah, I was fun back then!) The Rose was completely over my head and intimidated me so much that I never approached Eco again. I suspect that it is my loss.

I think that there are quite a few books that are ruined by the high school curriculum and forcing kids to read them before they are emotionally and even physically ready. There is no reason for anyone under the age 21 to read Faulkner, ever. As a matter of fact, it may be a good idea for book stores to start carding people. Because it took me twenty years to recover from reading The Sound and The Fury during my junior year.

On Monday, July 14h, I saw someone reading the Bible in Russian on the platform at West 4th Street. Very reassuring. Someone else was reading Night Fever and my favorite reader had a copy of What is the What by Dave Eggers. Which I recommend. Although I'm sure that the Bible is great, too.

Later that day, there was a Play Money reader (incidentally, looking at the write-up of this book on Amazon, I'm convinced that we all need to get a copy), and The Time Traveler's Wife. I fully admit to judging books by their cover (that's how I discovered Raymond Carver's wonderful What We Talk About When We Talk About Love in high school--the cover was stunning) and by the title. And The Time Traveler's Wife does not appeal to me at all. She sounds like she would be a bit of a whiner, actually. "He's out time traveling again, I don't know when to have dinner ready." Also, someone was reading Ethan Canin's The Palace Thief which I loved and it reminded me that I have not read anything by Ethan Canin in ages. But look at this, he has a new novel out. America America. Does that qualify as a song lyric? I'm starting to fear for my rule.

Wednesday, July 16th, uptown V train, Into Thin Air. People either get it or they don't. I didn't get it when I read it while pregnant years ago, but now I appreciate it more. Someone else was reading Harry Potter, impossible to tell which volume. I feel bad that I lost interest in Harry, especially since the rest of the industrialized world became more and more enamored, but I just couldn't fake it any longer.

Thursday, July 17th, downtown V. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I had absolutely no clue what that was, but now with the help of the internet, I see it's the book that they've been selling at Starbucks, If I'm not mistaken, it's narrated by a dog, which increases the chances that I will ever read it to -800. Julia Cameron's The Right to Write. I have certainly heard of that, and it's on my virtual To Read list.

Friday, July 18th, uptown F. Smilla's Sense of Snow. My ex-boyfriend's mother loved that book and I could not get through it. A woman sitting next to me was reading 10 Spiritual Principles of Successful Women. From her demeanor, I am guessing that one of the top principles was to sneer at subway seat mates trying to get a peek at your book. I'm sorry! I'm not trying to be nosy, I just need to have material for the blog!

And that was my subway week! I can't wait to see what people are reading this week.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Specifically, that it would be great if I could blog in near-real-time about the books that I see my fellow New Yorkers reading on the buses and subways, as opposed to just a few days a week? The only thing standing between me and that goal is my complete and total lack of a trust fund, so I am forced to work. It's barbaric.

Anyway, on Tuesday morning, it was slim pickings on the 6 uptown. There were only two book readers, and by a weird coincidence they were seated right next to each other. The Last Van Gogh and Marked Men. Van Gogh gave me the hairy eyeball as I eyed her book. What? Book titles are confidential now?

This morning, I had fantastic luck on the uptown F, though. I got into the last car of the crowded train, sat in the only available seat, next to a woman reading Deluxe. I'm sure that we can all agree that there is no better omen for the start of the day than sitting next to someone reading Deluxe, which I assumed was a book about luxury. This may or may not be the best time to tell you that the person that I spotted on my way off the train was reading Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives. I've never read it, but I have a feeling that Amazon doesn't sell it together with Deluxe. Apparently Deluxe is written by Dana Thomas, the fashion writer for Newsweek. Now I've been to several waiting rooms, so I am familiar with Newsweek and for the life of me, I had no idea that they had fashion writers. After I moved down from Deluxe, I sat next to Toxic Parents, who was in the middle of a chapter of "Why Can't They Let Me Live My Own Life". It's difficult to believe that the book wasn't staged by Woody Allen.. Across from Toxic was a woman reading Absurdistan, although I am using the term "reading" loosely here, as she remained on the same page for two stops. I've read Absurdistan and there is no need for that kind of concentration. Although I did like it.

Down the car there was The Kite Runner (I know that it is a beloved book, so let me ostracize myself by saying that I found it completely draining and very "Oh my god! What else can go wrong!" This did not stop me from getting totally falling for every plot development and emotional manipulation, of course. But I cried at those late 80s McDonald's commercials, too.) But as a sign of protest, I will not link The Kite Runner. You can't make me. And Nora Roberts' Irish something or other. I'm sorry, I just jotted down "Irish" when I saw it, never imagining that there would be more than one option. I've failed you. I've never read Nora Roberts, nor do I know anyone who has. I mean, maybe they read her in secret or something. But everyone knows who she is. Profound, no?

Then there was the Jacob Riis reader, which I can't even believe. Although I started recording the books people read only recently, I am positive that I have never seen anyone read Riis on the subway before.

Which brings me to the journey home today. You know how sometimes you get to a place (a subway car, for example) and everyone is reading Sedaris or H.L. Mencken and sort of laughing to themselves and you're filled with a general sense of merriment and goodwill? Well, that has never happened to me, personally, but on the downtown F tonight, I had the opposite experience. The guy standing over me (I'd call him a straphanger, but there are no straps on the subways in NYC) was reading The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. At first I thought it was "The 100: A Banking of the Most Influential Something or Other" which sounded like an Ambien trademark violation in the making. Another man, holding a hard hat, I kid you not, was reading Joyce's Dubliners. Another man was engrossed in Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill, which is such a wrist slasher that I felt a need to monitor his mood. Rounding out this Light Reading Central was Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Seriously, people, who are you trying to impress?

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Friday, July 4, 2008


So clearly I'm making the rules up as I go along, but on Thursday morning I thought of another one--the person spotted with the book on the NYC subway or bus must actually be reading the book, not just carrying it prop-like. Of course I do not really think that New Yorkers carry books as props, but what about the tourists? What do we know about them, really?

And I'm sorry to say that I could have had a star cameo in this post, because I saw Project Runway's Michael Kors walking down the street on Thursday, and although he was not technically on the subway, I was on my way to the subway, so certainly that counts for something. Except he wasn't reading a book. Nor was he carrying one. He was carrying a bottle of water, and he wasn't even reading its label. Just walking and carrying it. He looked great, not orange at all, like he often does on the show.

Ok! Great news! I did get to see some readers on the downtown 3 train yesterday morning. One woman was reading In the Midst of It All, seeing no irony apparently that in putting her purse on the seat next to her in the standing room only subway car, she really was in the midst of it all. Or is that not what "irony" means? I'm using Irony in the Alanis Morrissette sense. Another woman was reading a library copy of Two Lives, which apparently is not the Two Lives about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, by the scandalous Janet Malcolm.

On the way back on the Bronx bound 5 uptown train, as I had to get off prematurely at 14th Street because the man that I was sitting next to had on more perfume than I had put on during my lifetime, I saw a woman reading "Follow the Story" and a man reading "Lolita". I've read Lolita several times, never with complete enjoyment. I think that more people than not will admit that it makes them somewhat uncomfortable, even though we have all been trained to admire it.

I got on the next 4 uptown train. I know that I am not the only person to change trains because someone is too odorous/insane looking. Once I got off the train a few stops early because a fellow passenger announced at top lung volume, "Please join me in celebrating Allah!" and I wanted to get off the train, but I couldn't just get off, I had to go through this whole, "Oh, is this 23rd Street? Why, that is my stop!" for the benefit of an unspecified, yet sure to be appreciative, audience.

On the 42nd Street platform, I saw a woman reading The Bitch is Back, and judging by the cover (bada-bump!) is not necessarily back from fashion camp. On the uptown 6 we practically had a moving library with one woman reading Hood Rat by K'wan (did you know that a hood rat is a woman of questionable repute? Could it be a sequel to Lolita) a woman across from her reading Persepolis and someone else with a copy of Ian McEwan's Atonement. I loved Atonement so much that I would not see the movie. I couldn't stand Saturday, and I would see the movie in a heartbeat.

On the way back, I saw Scott Westerfield's Specials, part of the Uglies trilogy, (who knew there was an Uglies Trilogy?)! and America in Normandy, by John McManus. I will admit to being intimidated by people who read history books for pleasure because I generally only read them as part of a plea bargain. The last book of the week for me was Lords of North, described as "a splendid Saxon novel". Another one of those, eh?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Beginning

You know how I sort of implied in the previous post that this blog idea has been swirling in my mind for a while? Well. It's true that I always notice what people are reading, but it didn't all jell for me until I was on the V train heading uptown yesterday morning, and I noticed what the two women sitting next to me were reading. One was engrossed in Better Single Than Sorry and the other was reading "The Subrogation of Women". You know, by John Stuart Mill. Shockingly, these two women were not together, but good lord, how could I not put something like that into the blogasphere?! And let me just say that the Single book cover strongly implies that you will become a Sex & The City cast member if you just remain single long enough.

On the way home, taking the 101 bus, I saw a woman reading San Francisco is Burning. I was very alarmed because she was reading a hardcover, with the dust jacket removed, which made me go through several unpleasant machinations just to get a peek. "What the hell are you doing?" my friend John asked me. And I'm pretty sure he rolled his eyes when I told him.

This morning I took the 6 downtown, newly resolved and armed with pen and paper to jot down my literary observations. Apparently sensing that I am just starting this blog, the entire subway population of the subway car decided to forego books and stare vacantly into space instead. The sole book reader in the car had the nerve to read the hardcover with the dust jacket removed, so it was absolutely impossible to tell what he was reading. He was sitting across from me, and there were only so many furtive glances I could throw his way before he'd start looking into Order of Protection options.

A few hours later, I was headed back uptown on the 6. Apparently, books, like transfat, have been banned in NYC. Sob.

On the way home, I was determined to succeed. On the platform, waiting for the uptown F, I saw someone reading My Best Friend's Girl. Love book titles that sound like song lyrics. And by "love", I mean "mock." Usually, I wouldn't include platform readers, but I was so desperate after coming up empty in the morning, that I couldn't pass it up.

But then, I had a bounty. On the train, I sat next to a woman reading The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (am I the only one who was totally shocked that Michael Chabon was married? Because while everyone else was shocked by Ayelet Waldman's essay about how she'd basically use her kids to stop a bullet aimed at her husband, I was flabbergasted that he was married). Someone behind me was reading "Blue Skies", which sounds like another one of those song-title books, but is really Lynn Cheney's memoir. Hey, I liked her better when she was writing lesbian porn!

A man leaning against the door, even though the signs forbid it had a copy of J.M. Coetze's Disgrace, which I recommend very strongly and someone else was reading Sedaris' "Naked". If I were playing a drinking game, I'd have a sip every time I see someone reading Sedaris, because I just adore him. I know that people compare him to Augusten Burroughs, but to me, he's eons ahead of him.

Just when I thought that I was on the train headed to English literature class, as I was exiting the train, I saw a man reading "Cosmic Balance: The Secret of Polarity."

Why I am Doing This

Welcome to my new blog.

I have been riding the New York City transit system (usually the subway) almost every day and I always take note of what people are reading. I remember in the early 1990s everyone was reading John Grisham. It was like a cult or something. Of course the alternative to Grisham was doing word searches, so what was I to complain about "The Pelican Brief"?

I missed many gems. There was a woman sitting next to me a few years ago, eating Pringles and reading a book whose title contained several grammatical errors. I did not write it down and I really regret it, because the chances that I will ever come across that book again are slimmer than Lara Flynn Boyle. But I am determined to keep a faithful journal of the books that I see on the subway.