Usually, however, I’m reading AMNew York or Metro, the freebie commuter newspapers that get passed out at the entrance to the train. They annoy me, but I’ve grown to really love that friendly moment of “hi” and a quick exchange from the AMNew York guy of the moment, so I keep taking the papers.
Whatever I’m reading—or if I’m just listening to music—I always love to look around and see what others are reading. There’s lots of Fay Kellerman and Dan Brown and The Five People You Meet in Heaven to be sure, but I’m surprised at how many people are earnestly reading the Bible or a small devotional at all times of the day. A lot of people are studying, reading fat law books and textbooks. Recently, I saw a little girl, about seven, flying through some really dumb worksheets from school, spending about fifteen seconds on each page, jamming them back into her enormous backpack as she finished as if she were in a homework race.
More people than you might expect are reading really interesting books—books that were popular five or ten years ago that they’re just getting to, classics, underground (ha!) hits.
The one reader, however, who sticks with me most is an Asian woman in her fifties. I saw her three times in the last car at 9:15 in the morning. She was Upper East Side socialite skinny in tight jeans. She had really complicated hair: very long bangs that were thin and curled out from her forehead and then a series of poofs and bunches on the top of her head, geisha-like. She got on the uptown B/D at 42nd and rode to Columbus Circle with me, reading a yellowed copy of a Pelican history of the height of the Dutch Empire.
It’s been a few months, but I still think of her, with her elaborately made-up eyes and her serious, serious book.
I am curious about her: everything in her appearance seemed calculated to make you guess she was primarily interested in appearances and there she was, with more patience for serious nonfiction than most, certainly than me.
To lower the tone considerably, she does put me in mind of that great song, “Zip,” in which (the peerless) Elaine Stritch sings in the voice of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee explaining what she thinks about while she strips:
I was reading Schopenhauer last night,
And I think that Schopenhauer was right.