Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Metro Book Club

In the style of one who has clearly not grown up with it or had to deal with it for very long, I must admit that I am a little bit in love with public transportation.  Never fear, I will get to the considerable frustrations with it in due time, but before you hurt yourself rolling your eyes, New Yorker, hear me out.  Or at least, just indulge me.

When I studied and taught at the University of Tennessee, my commute from my door to the parking lot was roughly 20 minutes in the morning class-rush, 12 minutes for the 5:30 AM arrival to my office to work on my thesis.  My first semester teaching for Roane State required an abominable 45-minute drive to Harriman to teach an 8:00 AM Basic Writing class on Mondays and Wednesdays, but my last semester teaching included a delightful drive of only 10 minutes during rush hour to Bearden High School.

Every day now, my transit time from door to office is about 40 minutes.  But I love it because….I get to read.  It gives me time to read for pleasure, a hobby which I could barely make myself practice in between reading student essays and trivial department-assigned composition readers and rhetoric texts.  Finally, I can make a dent in those 50-odd titles that have been sitting on my bookshelves, unread, for years. I’ve already read about six books, and that at a pretty leisurely pace, considering that I primarily read on the train (downtime at home has, sadly, been devoted to catching up with the rest of the world’s new obsession with Downton Abbey or rediscovering Arrested Development).

But I love New York public transportation more because other people read.  So many people.  The means differ – smartphone, Kindle, traditional book (for the purist). I’ve previously discussed the dedication to reading on the train, and that is no small feat.  But I’m impressed with not only the number of people who read on the train but with the astonishing variety of what they read.  I think that what people read is incredible insight into their characters.  Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I will certainly judge a person by the book cover he or she holds.  When I enter a house, one of the first things I look at is the owner’s bookshelves; if they’re floor to ceiling or you have an entire library (and the shelves have a higher ratio of books to knickknacks and trinkets than vice versa), you earn bonus points.

Reading a history textbook, The New Yorker, and Huysmans's Against Nature, respectively.

When I returned from my visit to New York last Autumn, I returned with a glowing memory of the subway.  In this day and age of smartphones and technology and twitter, in this city of innovation and business and capitalism, people read!  Voraciously!  And they read literature!  It’s not just fad-reads like The Hunger Games or book club favorites like The Help, though they have merit; I've seen people reading Thoreau. Kierkegaard. Pamuk. O’Connor.  Faulkner. Huxley. Nabokov. Dostoevsky!

And...Tina Fey.  Last week, I stood next to a twenty-something man in a casual blazer and jeans, stylishly eccentric knit cap, carefully planned colorful socks, nice facial hair – he was quite attractive, to be frank.  But he was not the kind of guy I thought would be reading Tina Fey’s book. I observed him reading, enjoying the uncontainable silent laughter that lit up his face every few minutes. I fear that I’ve become a bit of a creeper, staring at everybody with a book on the subway, trying to see what they’re reading.  I’ve been in more than one situation where I’m so intent about discovering the title of the work in their hands that I miss their transition from absorption in their reading to staring back at me in offense.  Whoops.  But it also gives me ideas; I constantly think, “I want to read that!”  At least I know of some good bookstores where I can buy the book…

Right now, I’ve finally gotten around to reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay that has been on my bookshelf for a good five years.  I had just finished reading some essays by Michael Chabon, so I figured it was time. Next week…who knows? (Actually, I already finished it and moved on already thanks, in part, to some unexpected subway construction this past weekend.)

This guy was reading music.

1 comment: