Readers' Travels
April 6, 2008 10:44 PM   Subscribe

I know a man who once went to Sioux City, not one of the world’s leading destinations, precisely because he had never been there before. More than a decade later he still talks about the experience, from the Sergeant Floyd obelisk to the dog track of North Sioux and the meat packing plant converted to a shopping mall. The same impulse explains a non-specialist’s reading a history of Byzantine iconography or a survey of Australian wildlife. Both offer a break in daily life and an enlargement of our sense of wonder and possibility. That awareness can provide a sense of transcendence, and connection, or even the spark of divine discontent that leads people to change their lives.
Reading as Vacation, an essay by J. D. Smith and Subway Reader, pictures of people who read while using public transportation.
posted by Kattullus (17 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've always found it fascinating to watch other people read and public transportation is the best place to do it. I was very happy when a Google search for "subway readers" turned up a blog (possibly dead) called Subway Reader, about that very thing.
posted by Kattullus at 10:51 PM on April 6, 2008


i think it's a really cool idea, but i wonder why the photos are only of caucasians and asians? (i only flipped thru +50 photos)

i once had an idea to do something similar with people listening to music on buses. but interrupting a music listener is potentially more dangerous than just sayin' "hey can i snap yer photo?" to a reader.

thx for the post kattullus
posted by CitizenD at 11:39 PM on April 6, 2008


While attending university, my friend and I played a game called "total trash". After imbibing a few beers, we would go down to the current journal stacks in the main (not science or technical branch) library. Then we would randomly pick a journal off the shelf and open it to a random page, and start reading the first paragraph that our finger fell on. Could we make even the vaguest sense of what was written? Yes? Try again. No? You are a winner and have found TOTAL TRASH!
posted by telstar at 11:45 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


MeFi is like reading as vacation too. Back when I was a bus & biker I read so much more. And I hated it knowing people were watching me, especially the day I took Small Steps on with me and cried at the rock concert part.
posted by carsonb at 11:47 PM on April 6, 2008


I read books and I SCUBA dive in warm salt water, and I don't know as I would compare the one experience with the other, as Smith does. That slight carping aside, Smith makes points.

I do, however, disagree with his praise of short form reading material (I hesitate to call essays and poems literature, but that's a personal predilection) as being worthy of his premise. The world's average attention span is already under siege, due in no small part, in my estimation, to the Web and electronic media replacing the reading and discussion of books as common experiences. When more and more people read a paragraph or two at time, or write in text boxes that encourage only more of the same, ideas shrink to fit the space provided, as do attention spans.

Let those who praise books, and the time and solitude taken to read them, do so unbowed. Ideas that engage for 300+ pages, are different, in kind, from those that don't.

I appreciate you sharing this find, kattullus.
posted by paulsc at 11:48 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I remember, I wear my headphones while I read on the bus. This is because, for some reason, when you have headphones, everyone treats you like a stone, but when you're reading a book? That's an invitation to a conversation! "Whatcha readin'? Yeah? What's that? Oh, is that like ___? Oh, what is it like?" Et cetera. I didn't bring the book because I'm secretly an extrovert. Fuck off and let me read.
posted by agentofselection at 12:08 AM on April 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


CitizenD: i think it's a really cool idea, but i wonder why the photos are only of caucasians and asians?

I saw a few hispanic-looking and black folk on the first 4 pages or so.
posted by !Jim at 12:30 AM on April 7, 2008


I grew up reading on the DC Metro. I finished so many books on the red and orange lines, really good stuff too, like Kafka and Marquez, of course being fifteen there was a heavy amount of Palanhniuk. There's something really peaceful for me about subways, especially when compared to the mind numbing boredom of car traffic. This stuff really hit home for me. Awesome show, great job.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 12:53 AM on April 7, 2008


Interesting article, thanks. I'd like to do more reading-as-vacation - I did some last week for the first time for ages, reading a book on early Renaissance Florence, just because I was staying somewhere and it was lying around - and it's good to read about something you're more-or-less unfamiliar with. Beacuse my research is on books I like to read it's easy to get into a state where every book I read is also important for research and I'm taking notes as I go. Not the right state of mind for thinking "Wow! I never knew that!".
posted by paduasoy at 1:19 AM on April 7, 2008


The world's average attention span is already under siege, due in no small part, in my estimation, to the Web and electronic media replacing the reading and discussion of books as common experiences. When more and more people read a paragraph or two at time, or write in text boxes that encourage only more of the same, ideas shrink to fit the space provided, as do attention spans.

What a load of crap.
posted by Pendragon at 3:18 AM on April 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I used to commute on the NYC subway, 45 minutes to an hour each way. I loved it. What a great time to read! My only complaint was because my car was often very busy I couldn't read hardcover books (with one hand), and thus spent a lot buying paperbacks. Luckily there was the Strand.
posted by miss tea at 3:36 AM on April 7, 2008


I read on the subway every day, and nobody's ever taken my picture. I feel slighted now.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 4:09 AM on April 7, 2008


I loved reading on the subway. Unfortunately, I was never good at bringing my books back home if I happened to finish them on my ride into work. When I left that job I had something like forty books in a drawer I had to deal with.
posted by mikepop at 6:04 AM on April 7, 2008


I used to have two hours of bus riding before and after work each day, it was the only time in my life I managed to get through a Joyce novel.
posted by drezdn at 6:50 AM on April 7, 2008


When I read novels, essays, or something I'm likely to enjoy, I usually save that reading for bedtime, or block off some quiet time where I won't be interrupted. The reason is that I tend to strongly associate remembered passages with the place/situation where i read them. And I don't much enjoy my hour-long commute, it's crowded and noisy, so for me it's not suitable for novel reading.

Commute time is GREAT for otherwise uninspiring technical/professional reading, because compared to the commute environment, just about any tech lit is a welcome relief. Magazines are good too, because the articles are usually short (and fluffy, not stuffy). I will also read those stupid free tabloids, or the leftover bits of someone else's paper. But not novels while commuting. Wierd, huh?
posted by Artful Codger at 7:18 AM on April 7, 2008


I've been reading Lolita lately, largely on the bus and on the train. I got some mighty dirty looks when a mother and her young daughter sat next to me and the mother noticed what I was reading.
posted by gurple at 9:24 AM on April 7, 2008


...the dog track of North Sioux ...

Hey, I won $50 at that dog track. It was the only time I went to one.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:45 PM on April 7, 2008


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