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?


Ann said...

Re: the question 'Are book titles confidential,' ... I'm reminded of a story told to me by a bookseller who visited Japan. Evidently bookshops there give out book covers with each purchase, and people use them specifically to keep what they are reading from people with prying eyes. It's also, of course, a great advertising opportunity for the bookshop.

Of course, if the practice were adopted in NYC, people could then be judged by the stores they shop at instead of what they are reading. I wonder if that's true in Japan -- and if someone would buy a book at, say, Three Lives, and reuse the cover for books purchased at some other store.

Marinka said...

I love that story. Although if this catches on in NYC, it may be the end of my blog. Oh NO! I'm sure that in NYC they'd come up with Gucci book covers in no time!