It was very crowded on the subway this morning, but still I noticed the man seated in front of me reading by Joan Didion. He was more than halfway through, and because he had stomped on my feet several times not more than a moment before, practically crushing them to the bone, I wanted to lean over and ask him, “Have you gotten to the part where she gets leukemia yet?” or some terrible-sounding lie to make it appear as though I was wrecking the end. Of course, I didn’t say anything at all, spiteful or otherwise. I kept my horrible little thoughts to myself.
The woman standing next to me was amazingly engrossed in her book; when I glanced over, my eyes latched onto the words “throbbing,” “swelled” and “kiss,” so naturally my thoughts started wandering in a certain direction. It made me extremely curious as to the title or at least the author, so much so that I tried using our reflections in the glass in front of us to get a better look at the cover. Instead I got distracted by how very tired I looked. In my defense, those dim tunnels combined with the subway’s overhead lighting and smudged windows do not paint the most flattering portrait.
Later, on another line, I noticed that no one else seemed to be reading, with the exception of a blonde woman flipping through a J.Crew catalog. I don’t think that quite counts. When I observe things like this on the subway, I always wonder, “What are these people thinking?” and “Where are these people going?” Ultimately, I ask myself, “Why aren’t they reading?”
Clearly, I realize that not all people are devourers of books, or even nibblers of books. Still — I get most, if not practically all, of my reading done on public transit. On some days, such as today, I even carry two books in my bag, just in case I finish one earlier than anticipated. (For the record, they are D.V. by Diana Vreeland, loaned to me by my friend Alyssa, and Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, snatched off my bookshelves this morning at the very last minute. And I did finish D.V.) In my case, reading makes what could be a long, noisy and tedious ride home interesting, exciting and even too short. Sometimes, I recklessly walk and read, which might be why I trip so frequently; on more than one occasion, I’ve been tempted to stay on the train a few stops longer than needed. No catalog could even come close to claiming to be such a pageturner.