Subway Study: What Are Riders Reading

One way to pass the time on the subway is to look around and see what other riders are reading as they travel in the morning. I use the subway on the Yonge-University line in Toronto at least once a week .  Other than a newspaper or magazine, I cannot imagine what it would be possible to enjoy on that early morning commute when everyone is being tossed around with the stops and starts. Nonetheless, there are a surprising number of book readers so if you are one of them and would like some reading suggestions, here they are.

Let’s start with the textbooks. There are quite a few students(or people who like to read textbooks) travelling in the early morning and I have seen more than one reading through their textbooks – I have seen chemistry, accounting and business textbooks. I will say that these hefty books are only being reviewed in the hands of riders seated on the train, which is understandable. It’s difficult enough to balance without a book in one’s hands at times, let alone a large textbook. I have prepared for quite a few exams over the years and the rush hour subway ride does not seem like a good time or place to cram to me. Also, I have assumed that these are not teachers or professors but maybe that’s also a possibility since the material would likely not be new to them.

The next category of subway reading I will loosely refer to as “classics”, mostly because these are books not written within the last ten years but generally well-known.  In the past week, when I took the morning subway four times, I saw people reading these “classics”: Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Of all of these, I did myself think that Foundation would be easiest to read since it comprises five short stories. I also wondered about the possibility that these books were either being reread, having been previously enjoyed, since I do find rereading less complex that the first reading of any book. I also wondered whether, given how “classic” each of these works is, the readers were, once again, students catching up on their class assignments.

“Bestselling Fiction” is another popular kind of subway reading. Since these works are very popular, I did think that they were possibly “gripping” and “hard to put down”, meaning that one could likely read them even when being thrown back and forth on the subway train. These books included Jean Auel’s The Land of Painted Caves, Terry Prachett’s Dodger, Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, and Lee Child’s Killing Floor.

Another popular category is “Bestselling Nonfiction”. I found this category most interesting  – mostly because I could consider the readers’ possible motivations and this always amuses me. I saw a man reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I always feel it is a positive thing for women when men will read books that consider women’s advancement.  I saw two people reading The 4- Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferris. I hope that this will work out for them and that their bosses don’t see what they’re reading.

As a study of subway reading, mine is flawed since I am missing the group of people reading from their ebooks, and most readers that I’ve seen are doing this rather than reading from a printed text. I also wondered, however, how many textbooks are now online. This would be great for students: no more lineups at the bookstore, coupled with the anxiety of finding out that you’re too late and do not have a copy of the text on which the first test is in two weeks.

Finally, I am always curious to see who is reading which book but it is never a good idea to stare for too long at a fellow rider in order to obtain some nonverbal cues as to their personality. It’s better just to collect titles and marvel instead at the extraordinary concentration of people who can read something longer than two hundred words while holding onto the ceiling support and keeping out of the way of their neighbours when the train comes to an abrupt stop.

The most valuable aspect of this “study” for me is obtaining reading suggestions by an unconventional method. Some of the covers intrigued me sufficiently that I looked up the books and some of them I will read or reread, although maybe not on the subway. There are too many studies to do on the subway

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