what new yorkers are reading on the subway

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The New York Trilogy

Manhattan Bound 5 Train, Nevins St. stop
Josh was reading a book packed like a modern noir classic: The New York Trilogy (detective novels for intellectuals), written by Paul Auster, illustrated by Art Spiegelman, with an introduction by Luc Sante. He saw it in a book store and told his girlfriend about it. She happens to work for Penguin, who publishes this "Classic Deluxe Edition." I confessed to Josh that while I loved all three books when I read them 20 years ago, I had a harder time remembering the plot than I did the joyful perplexity of following his characters through the novels. "I don't know how to describe it (the first of the trilogy, City of Glass). "It's one man losing himself in someone else. He's someone else trying to be someone else. Josh is in his first year studying physical therapy at NYU. Part of his training is to work with severely injured patients at SUNY Downstate hospital in Brooklyn. He just finished Candide, also a "Classic Deluxe Edition," which was illustrated with stick figures.

Big Brain

On the Outbound R Train towards Bay Ridge
Big Brain: The Origins and Future of Human Intelligence, by Gary Lynch and Richard Granger, looks like a big read, a thick popular science book, a science book for the rest of us. "It caught my eye." She was browsing at St. Marks Bookshop in the East Village. "I like non-fiction," said Stephanie, who when questioned about the book showed no hesitation about jumping right in explain what the book is about. We learn about a group of South Africans who had much bigger brains than we do now. Lynch and Granger, said Stephanie, who is waiting to study at the Aveda Institute, investigate the Boskops, who 10,000 years ago were human-like with bigger brains.

The Last Lecture

On the Outbound R Train towards Bay Ridge
The Last Lecture, says Romina, is a true story about a dying professor giving his last lecture. "My friend gave it to me. I think Oprah recommended it." A friend gave it to her for her graduation from NYU, where she recently got a masters in Speech Pathology. "It's like he's giving his last advice. It's inspirational"

Killing Johnny Fry

Manhattan Bound 5 Train, Last Car, Winthrop
Marc began reading Walter Mosley with Devil In a Blue Dress, the noir-ish pot boiler featuring the likable Easy Rawlins. He read the last Rawlins mystery, Blond Faith, the 10th, which he says--teasingly--might be the end of Rawlins. Marc, who is an elementary school paraprofessional for PS 315 near Brooklyn College, says he thinks Killing Johnny Fry is about a guy whose girlfriend cheated on him. But he just began reading the book. He doesn't know yet.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Zen in the Art of Archery

Uptown 4 Train at 59th Street Station
Dave is a writer at an ad agency and his Creative Director gave him a copy of Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. He told Dave that it would be a good book to learn how to reach a goal. I told him about a book I read in college, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He had never heard of it.Zen in the Art of Archery "is confusing," he said. "I'm a Christian and this is not stuff I am used to reading." I was about to ask him to explain, but we had reached his stop.

The Ghost Brigades

Uptown F Train at Broadway-Lafayette
Walking up to people on the subway and asking them a question throws the interviewer into a void of possibility. There is the fear that the person sitting or standing there will respond by clobbering the questioner. Or simply refuse to answer the question. The space in between riders feels sometimes like a holy separation--it's New Yorker's space, as we used to say in California, and crossing the unspoken barriers into that space feels risky. My biggest fear, however? That the person will turn out to be reading an interesting book and have a lot to say about it. Which is exactly what happened with Hatim, who was reading the mass market paperback The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi. Hatim is working towards his doctorate in Media and Communications. He was reading the novel because he studies "popular narratives about technology and politics." How did this novel fit into this kind of investigation? We'll never know because he had to get off the train at 14th Street.

An Obedient Father

Waiting for the Manhattan Bound A Train at the Nostrand Station, upper level
Nikhil is an English professor in Manhattan and looked very suspicious of the question about his book. He did not offer much. The book was titled An Obedient Father, by Indian author Akhil Sharma, who I learned from both Wikipedia and Amazon is an investment banker as well as a novelist. Sharma is a friend of Nikhil, he said, in answer to why he was reading the novel. He called it a good book.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Undomestic Goddess

Manhattan bound 2 Train, Winthrop to Grand Army Plaza
Jackie felt caught with "trash." As soon as I asked her if we could discuss her book, she started laughing. She was reading The Undomestic Goddess, by Sophie Kinsella. "It's an escape," she called her experience of reading the book, which was recommended by a friend. "It's about a woman who quits her job as a lawyer a job as a house keeper, even though she can't cook and clean."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How to Understand, Explain, and Defend the Catholic Church

Manhattan bound 2 train between Franklin Street and Grand Army Plaza.
Like many people who talk about the books they're reading on the train, Louise reacted to the question "Can I ask you about the book you're reading" with a wary smile. She was reading Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain, and Defend the Catholic Church by Scott Hahn. "I'm of the Catholic religion," she told me. She didn't need reasons to believe but she was reading the book to learn something. She did find it a good and interesting book. "It's not necessarily for people of the Catholic faith." She got it from the library, she said, when she wanted "Something to give me hope for the world. I was looking at all the books and this is what I came up with, and I am a Catholic."

8789 Words of Wisdom

Manhattan Bound 2 Train between Winthrop and President Street in Brooklyn
8789 Words of Wisdom
by Barbara Ann Kipfer

Jalika says that 8789 Words of Wisdom is about advice, about anything in live. She graduated high school last year and says that her mentor in high school gave her this book on graduation day.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America

Just before rush hour, Corey sat reading Jonathan Kozol's new book, Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid School in America, a book he called really good--"even better than his last book." Corey is studying elementary education at Brooklyn College and was reading the book for school.

Musician's Quest

Shana was reading Musician's Quest by George MacDonald and Michael R. Phillips because her friend told her that MacDonald had influenced C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. She bought the book at www.half.com, which she says sells books at very low prices. Half.com is a part of eBay, and seems to sell books, CDs, DVDs , and video games.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Double Dare

Manhattan Bound 5 train, between Franklin and Atlantic
Nasrine was coming from Brooklyn College, where she is a sophomore and plans on majoring in political science and eventually becoming a lawyer. She was reading Double Dare by Cathy Hopkins. "It's a teenage type of romance book. It's very kid-ish. It's entertaining. It's about a teenage boy and his love life...I liked the cover."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Sea of Trolls

Jane, a children's librarian who works in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was reading The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Forman.

"It's a Young Adult Book. I've almost missed four subway stops reading it. It's a fantasy about a boy captured by A Viking and apprenticed to a magical bard." Jane is reading the book, she says, because it is this month's selection in her book group, which meets at the Brooklyn Public Library's main branch at the Grand Army Plaza. She wouldn't normally read the book otherwise, she says. But she finds it is a very good book.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction

Sue, an English woman here on contract to perform "Quality Reviews" on New York public schools

was reading Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeon, and Linda Kucan

A school on which Sue had conducted a "Quality Review"--part of the process where the NYC Department of Education evaluates and grades public schools A-F--recommended that she read the book and bring it back to England with her. She thinks the book has a good concept, to extend the vocabulary range of students. She did not elaborate and seemed ready to return to her book.

2001 French and English Idioms

Utma, who works at the Department of Sanitation
was reading 2001 French and English Idioms By Francois Denoeu, David Sices, and Jacqueline Slices

Utma was reading this book to improve his English. He didn't seem to understand that he was being asked about his book for the purposes of a blog. He was very suspicious. He would not let me take a picture of the book. I told him I did not want to take a picture of him, only the book. That did not matter. Later, when I was waiting to exit the train at Franklin Avenue, I overheard the man sitting across from him explain what I wanted.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bird By Bird

Kathleen, Grant Writer

was reading Bird By Bird By Anne Lamont

The non-fiction book, about writing, had been in Kathleen's bookcase for some time. She's been writing more at work lately and she thought the book might help. She wishes, however, that she had read the book years before, leaving the impression that she's not enjoying it as much as she would have.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ya Mon Kunta Habibi


was reading Ya Mon Kunta Habibi By Anis Monsur

The novel is a love story, set in Egypt, written in Arabic. Yusuf is in love with an Egyptian girl and wanted to read about love in Egypt. (Please excuse me if the transliteration of the title is wrong. You can email me at this blog.)

4rth Read

, who works at a bank
was reading Queen Bee: Based on a True Story by Keith Young and OG Wise Man

Wahkesa bought the novel, as well as Pimp: Sequel to Queen Bee, from Keith Young while waiting for the A Train at the Broadway Junction stop in Brooklyn. She says she bought to books because she wanted to support the writer.

Camera Lucida

Matt Black, Film Editor/Filmmaker
Camera Lucida
by Roland

Matt was in the middle of another book. He realized that the Barthes' book was due at the 145th and Amsterdam branch of the library on March 17, so he put the other one down. Reading Camera Lucida, he says, is purely recreational.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Post Office Girl

Leslie Jirsa, Teacher

The Post Office Girl
By Stefan Zweig

I needed a book for vacation. And I went to the book store and I felt really overwhelmed. I read the back, so I just picked it up and bought it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest

Garth Wolkoff, Teacher
Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest
by Eric Nisenson

I borrowed it from my coworker Eric after I read Coltrane: The Story of a Sound. I have become a little bit obsessed. I am just beginning the book, which is a biography. Like The Story of a Sound, this book is supposed to be less a conventional biography and more a focus on his music, why he made it, and Coltrane's cultural context. I'm not sure, however, if I can read two books on Coltrane.